Category Archives: Notes

Brent Ozar tries to save a Word file on Microsoft Surface

This is not how interaction design is supposed to work:

I don’t care if this is a preview or what not. Something this unusable should not be shipped.

This video shows a textbook example of poor design. Let’s postulate that the reason he can’t sign into Skydrive is that there is a server issue; that’s an issue that all cloud-based storage solutions have to deal with.

Graceful fallbacks are what is needed. There should be a way to save locally and have it upload to Skydrive when it works. There should at least be a way to X out of this menu and choose a different save option.

Errors do happen and graceful error handling is so important.

News.me discontinues iOS apps citing new Twitter rules

This is a bummer:

News.me, the social news service built on top of Twitter (and Facebook), todayannounced it is killing its curation apps for iPhone and iPad. The company is blaming Twitter for the move and says it wants to focus on its Digg efforts instead.

They claim this will not impact News.me’s great daily emails, but who knows how much data you’ll be able to get out of Twitter moving forward. News.me is the first thing I check in the morning to see what’s going on in my world. It always highlights interesting stories by seeing what my Twitter and Facebook friends are up to. I don’t use Digg and don’t plan to any time soon.

Everything wrong with the U.S. patent system in one hour

If you want to know why so many people are complaining about the U.S. patent system, how it stifles innovation and what exactly a patent troll is, I highly recommend you listen to This American Life’s episode on the subject:

Why would a company rent an office in a tiny town in East Texas, put a nameplate on the door, and leave it completely empty for a year? The answer involves a controversial billionaire physicist in Seattle, a 40 pound cookbook, and a war waging right now, all across the software and tech industries.

No more tweeting and Facebooking directly from XBOX 360

Well I’m shocked that people don’t want to tweet from their XBOX 360s:

Eagle-eyed gamers may have already noticed that the Xbox 360’s dedicated Twitter and Facebook apps have gone missing after the latest Dashboard update, and now Redmond has confirmed it’s put the applications out to pasture. According to a Microsoft representative that spoke to IGN, the firm is “retiring the Facebook and Twitter apps” as it works to streamline functionality. When asked if the pair of apps will ever make a comeback, Ballmer and Co. didn’t comment.

Updates from Tvs was a fad the last few years, and thankfully it’s going away. Why would someone want to check or update a social network from a TV? The XBOX 360 doesn’t even come with a keyboard, so I’m not exactly sure how this was supposed to ever work. All the data actually points to people using mobile devices to access social networks while they use their TVs. That makes sense.

Will Google’s new $249 ARM-based Chromebook really challenge tablets?

That’s the gist that Slashdot is going with anyway, but I remain unconvinced that a laptop, especially one that isn’t convertible into a touch tablet, is much of competitor of a tablet.

People buy tablets because they want tablets, not because they want laptops. I have a Chromebook, and it’s OK, but it’s no competitor to my iPad (and certainly not competitor to my Macbook Pro). The only conceivable way that a Chromebook could be a competitor for a tablet is in the sense of a relatively cheap, light and portable computing device.

But wasn’t that supposed to be netbooks before this? I don’t see many people arguing for them anymore.

I stand by my previous statements that I believe ChromeOS is still best focused for business users. If your work is all in the cloud, and you don’t need desktop apps, ChromeOS is fast, efficient, reliable and largely secure. If your work has bought into the cloud and Web apps, ChromeOS is a very compelling business OS.

It just doesn’t work well for creative types who need powerful video, photo, audio, graphic, etc. software. Or for business people who need the full power of Excel (although Google Docs spreadsheets are good enough for most users).

I think ChromeOS could also be a good solution for someone who wants a laptop form factor at home and doesn’t need anything other than a Web browser. There are definitely people and uses that make sense for ChromeOS and Chromebooks.

But tablets, particularly the market-leading iPad, are much more than a lightweight and portable way to browse the Web. The iPad has some pretty great games on it. It also makes for a good way to watch movies, either lounging around or on the go. The iPad is also the best reading device I’ve ever owned, and the tablet form factor makes a lot more sense than a clambshell laptop for reading.

Let me put this to you: Would you choose a Chromebook over a tablet?

46% of the world’s population has an active mobile device

Cellular technology is fast becoming ubiquitous, even in poorer, less developed parts of the word. From The Economist:

3.2 billion people, or 46% of the world’s total population of 7 billion, have at least one active mobile (cellular) device.

Japan, Britain and the Nordic countries have about 9 out of 10 citizens using mobile technology, which is pretty mind boggling. And infants, prisoners and certain other parts of the population are unlikely to start using mobile devices. You also have to keep in mind that many of the people not using mobile technology in developed countries are older, less tech savvy citizens.

This is particularly true in the United States, where the digital divide is increasingly one of age, not income. In the U.S., 66 percent of people 18-29 have smartphones, while just 11 percent of those 65 and older have them. And in poorer areas, the first real personal computer a person may own will be a smartphone, not a traditional computer:

Cell phones fill access gaps – 10% of cell-mostly internet users point towards a lack of other access options as the main reason why they primarily use their phone to go online, with 6% saying that they do not have access to a computer and 4% saying that they do not have any other source of internet access beyond their mobile connection.

 

NASA’s Curiosity’s tech specs are less than a modern smartphones and that’s just fine

ExtremeTech describes it as an “Apple Airport Extreme… with wheels:”

At the heart of Curiosity there is, of course, a computer. In this case the Mars rover is powered by a RAD750, a single-board computer (motherboard, RAM, ROM, and CPU) produced by BAE. The RAD750 has been on the market for more than 10 years, and it’s currently one of the most popular on-board computers for spacecraft. In Curiosity’s case, the CPU is a PowerPC 750 (PowerPC G3 in Mac nomenclature) clocked at around 200MHz — which might seem slow, but it’s still hundreds of times faster than, say, the Apollo Guidance Computer used in the first Moon landings. Also on the motherboard are 256MB of DRAM, and 2GB of flash storage — which will be used to store video and scientific data before transmission to Earth.

The RAD750 can withstand temperatures of between -55 and 70C, and radiation levels up to 1000 gray. Safely ensconced within Curiosity, the temperature and radiation should remain below these levels — but for the sake of redundancy, there’s a second RAD750 that automatically takes over if the first one fails.

That’s not a bad description of what it is. Just as a comparison, the original iPhone, which came out 5 years ago was 412 MHz (although you can’t directly compare clock speeds of different chipsets). The soon-to-be-replaced iPhone 4S has two cores each clocked at 800 MHz and 512 MBs of ram. Most likely the phone in your pocket is more powerful than the computer system that powers the latest Mars rover.

So why are the tech spechs on Curiosity so modest? Because they can be.

The iPhone and your desktop computer run general purpose operating systems. General purpose operating systems have to do a lot of things and run all kinds of applications. A general purpose OS can be used for playing video games, editing movies, recording music, writing books, surfing the Internet, creating Websites and applications, drafting 3D models, conducting physics simulations, making video calls, etc. A general purpose OS can be made to do just about any computing task.

Curiosity runs an embedded operating system that does a limited numbers of functions, and the OS itself  is the only application that is run. An embedded OS can’t run applications. Because of this, embedded OSes tend to be very reliable and efficient.

Your car has several computers inside it that run embedded OSes for specialized tasks. Nuclear reactors in power plants run on embedded OSes as well. You wouldn’t want Windows or OS X for these tasks, just as an embedded OS wouldn’t work for a smartphone.

Any device meant for space flight needs to worry about power consumption. Slower CPUs use less power. Even more ram takes up more power. Where every watt counts, the latest specs may not be the greatest idea.

This same logic applies to computing devices in every day life. Smartphones could have more powerful processors than the do and have more ram, but the more power a smartphone has and the more ram it has, the more battery power it needs. To be a true mobile device, a device needs to work for a substantial period of time away from an outlet or recharging source.

“When I looked at its screen, I thought my contact lenses had actually fallen out. “

Joanna Stern on the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display:

After 20 minutes of using Apple’s new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, I switched back to my own six-month-old MacBook Pro to send an email. But when I looked at its screen, I thought my contact lenses had actually fallen out. For a second I was worried; everything on the screen looked less crisp and less bright. It’s not an old machine, but it was really as if an optometrist had switched my prescription, or I’d been forced to use my old glasses. Everything just seemed blurry by comparison.

HBO doesn’t want your money

HBO confirms that they don’t have plans, for the time being, on allowing people to purchase HBO without a cable subscription:

“Take My Money, HBO!” is a very simple Web page that was started this week by Jake Caputo, a Web designer who wants to be able to subscribe to HBO via the Internet. The page asks: “How much would you pay monthly for a standalone HBO GO streaming service? Enter a number and Tweet it to let HBO know we want it and we will pay.” The page quickly gained attention from others like Mr. Caputo who want to subscribe to HBO without having to subscribe to a cable or satellite provider like Comcast or DirecTV.

Of course, HBO’s message included the words “for now” — a reminder that as the economics of television change, so too could HBO’s calculations about its relationships.

This will change in time. Will it be a year? Five years? 10 years? I don’t know, but the market will break HBO. The people will break HBO.

The future is in streaming and mobile, two things HBO does terrible or not at all. HBO can’t keep delivering a product that doesn’t work for people without cable and doesn’t work for mobile users.

In the short term, I’d settle for HBO making its mobile product better.

In the meantime, HBO will continue to lead in piracy and people will continue to share HBO Go accounts and do group viewings. Make no mistake, people are watching HBO content. It’s HBO’s choice on how many people they want to actually pay for it.