Archive for Geek Stuff

Apple’s New “Black Friday” Strategy

Since 2007 Apple has gone with the same online sale on Black Friday: Discounts on Apple branded hardware (typically 10% on lower-cost items and 5% on high-end ones) and free shipping. This year the rumour was that things would change, and with the stores on the other side of the date line now live with their sale prices it looks like things have changed … and the change is either good or bad depending on your particular mindset.

Instead of straight discounts, the deal is now a gift card with purchase. If you don’t buy from Apple very often, this is not a great deal. If you do purchase regularly (or even semi-regularly) then this is a definite upgrade, since the value of the gift cards looks to be greater across the board than the discount in previous years.

Of course, what is happening in Australia and New Zealand has no definite bearing on what happens in the EU or North America, so stay tuned.

How To Listen To Radio

You might think that is a pretty stupid title. Everyone knows how to listen to radio, right? You turn on your radio and, well, listen.

Duh.

Things get a little more muddled, however, when you try and listen online … especially if you are doing in from a mobile device. Pretty much every broadcaster has a mobile app these days, and the one thing they have in common is that they all suck. Hard.

Over to the right we see a typical mobile app from a typical broadcaster*. Looking at the interface we can see that it has a volume bar, and a “stop” button and … um … well, that’s it. No PVR controls, no playlist, no bookmarking, no auxiliary data … no nothing.

Did I mention the part where these things suck? Hard?

Worse, you have to grab individual sucky apps for each and every broadcaster, cluttering up one of your screens or folders with a big collection of suck. Ugly icons, too.

Suck.

Hard.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Grab yourself a copy of the “TuneIn Radio” app for your smartphone or tablet and listen to radio with all of the features that you would expect would be standard on any listening app. Take a peek at the screen and you see snooze and alarm functions, browsing and bookmarking, playlists, sharing, and a full set of PVR controls for pausing, skipping back, replay, skipping ahead … in other words, all of the basics that you would thing would be in any mobile radio app that wasn’t actually written by complete idiots. Better, it offers pretty much every on-air and internet-only radio station in a single app, and includes off-beat fun like closed-circuit college broadcasts, podcasts, community stations, and even police radio.

And how much does it cost? Why nothing, of course. It’s free (as in beer) and if you really want to go all out there is a 99 cent premium version that adds a “record” button to the controls.

So now the title makes sense. The bingo-callers and other assorted on-air fenderheads constantly pimp their “listen live” apps as if they are something other than complete shit. But now that you know how to listen to radio, you can avoid all of that, grab yourself a copy of TuneIn and … um, tune in. For real.

*NOTE: Some people might say I am being unfair using Rogers as my “typical broadcaster” since they are renowned – not just across Canada but around the world – for their rich legacy of technical ineptitude and shitty service. But the rest really aren’t any better, and Rogers more than deserves the abuse. So deal.

The Legend Of Tim Horton’s & The Java Jacket

Twenty years and a few days ago, a forward-thinking dude named Jay Sorensen invented the Java Jacket – a cardboard sleeve that would slip over a coffee cup to insulate the drinker’s fingers from the heat of the beverage inside without the waste of full-on double cupping. He received a twenty year patent for his invention, and for the last two decades made a tidy sum in royalties from coffee shops throughout North America, as well as a nice lump payout from Starbucks after they (unsurprisingly, for Starbucks) tried to rip him off.

Throughout all of those twenty years, however, Tim Horton’s espoused an unwavering corporate line that said cup sleeves were unnecessary, wasteful, and unwanted by their customers. Only a double cup would do. End of discussion.

A couple of days ago that patent expired. Today Tim Horton’s introduced cup sleeves to their franchises and customers.

Coincidence, I’m sure.

Solid-State Hard Drives & Defragmentation: Just Say No

I recently rejuvenated my 2010 MacBook Pro by replacing the stock hard drive with a solid-state “hybrid” drive – it’s a combination of traditional platters (750GB) and a stack of memory chips (250GB) – that is not quite as fast as a full solid-state drive, but in everyday use it’s damn close. And with the price being about one-sixth of what a full SSD costs it becomes an extremely attractive option if you want to update an older machine and keep using it for a couple of more years. It’s an upgrade that I highly recommend to anyone with aging hardware that they aren’t quite ready to – or able to – replace. Modern operating systems access the hard drive a lot, and after a couple of days of use a decent hybrid drive will reduce the times involved to virtually zero. You can get a quality 1TB drive for about 100 bucks, and your machine will suddenly seem at least twice as fast.

However, that’s not what this post is about.

This is actually about defragmentation. With more and more fully solid-state drives coming standard in decent laptops, and lots of people dropping hybrid drives in older machines, it’s worth pointing out that you should NEVER EVER DEFRAGMENT A SOLID-STATE OR HYBRID HARD DRIVE. Period. Not only will it provide zero benefit, it can actually reduce the lifespan of your drive.

So repeat after me: NEVER EVER DEFRAGMENT A SOLID-STATE OR HYBRID HARD DRIVE.

Whew. That’s better.

Everpix: Stellar Service, Shitty Business, R.I.P.

Everpix was a brilliant product and wonderful service that, sadly, had no way to ever make money. In what is surely a lesson of some sort, the business decisions that eventually drove them to ground were ones that made quality of product and the integrity of the user experience the team’s prime considerations. If they had been willing to be just another bunch of click-grabbers, they might have made it. The Verge has the definitive eulogy and it is definitely worth a read.

UPDATE: The Everpix team has now posted their official announcement and goodbye. If you are going to crash and burn, this is how you do it: Honestly, with class, and keeping your customers the top priority to the very end. A lot of “successful” companies could learn from this.

CNET: Your One-Stop Source For Spyware And Crap

Speaking of throwing in the towel and going for a few fast bucks at the expense of credibility … the fine folks at CNET have made a “small” change in the way you download software from their servers. Now when you search for software and get a “Download Now” link, you don’t actually get the software you wanted. What you get is a browser “toolbar” that is a lovely combination of spyware, annoyanceware, and crapware all rolled up into one convenient bundle. Then you can download the legitimate software that you actually wanted, once you have agreed to let CNET abuse your computer and personal information for their financial gain. Note that when the odious Terms of Service package (complete with external sale of your data and privacy to noted privacy invasion specialists “Spigot”) comes up the agreement button is checked by default, in violation of both US and Canadian laws governing such things:

CNET was once the most respected and trusted source for public domain and freely-distributed software. Many people probably still think that is the case … and their trust is going to abused and sold for a few pennies. Pathetic.

New York Times – Sad, Desperate, And Laughable

If there are still any lingering doubts about the sad state of desperation and irrelevance that now grips the New York Times, they will be forever put to rest this weekend. The “blockbuster” centerpiece of this upcoming weekend’s New York Times Magazine is an “expose” on the supposedly shameful behaviour of Apple as they trick you into buying consumer devices that don’t (gasp!) last forever. I’m not going to link to the essay … it’s obviously little more than link-bait and the wild flailings of a publication that is desperate for anything that will bring them a few eyeballs and some temporary notoriety. But there is an excellent discussion of the piece on Gizmodo today and it is definitely worth a read, if only for a few laughs and some fresh insight into how far gone the mainstream print media really is.

Next week, the Times will probably take television manufacturers to task for not building HDTV capabilities into the models they built in 1982. Shocking!

Baseball, Money, And The Correct Way To Report News In The Digital Age

This insanely great infographic showed up on Bloomberg today. It’s notable for two reasons: First, it is all sorts of interesting, especially when you start to sort by things other than straight value. Sorting by wins is an especial eye-opener. And two, every dumbfuck editor and publisher in the newspaper biz that still thinks simply re-publishing the content of print editions online is somehow acceptable – read, all of them – needs to be shown this and then slapped in the back of the head repeatedly until they realize that this is how you both report and publish news in the digital age.

Your reporters gather your information with the idea from the start that it will be published visually and interactively. Your designers use visual and interactive features to allow the reader to understand and explore the story behind the data. And then, and only then, do you re-purpose what you can for your dead-tree editions.

Slap, slap, slap.

Cross-Platform BBM Released. For Reals!

One month after the abortive – and quickly cancelled – “launch” of the cross-platform version of Blackberry Messenger, the folks in Waterloo have given it another try. And this time it actually works! Of course, if you didn’t sign up before today you won’t be able to sign in … and there is no actual word from Blackberry on how long you will have to wait. If you signed up already, you got the download link via email. For everyone else, this is where you can grab it, but you won’t be able to use it. Yet.

As for the app itself, it seems to have almost nothing in common with the disaster version that was prematurely ejaculated to the world last month. In fact, it’s very much like Blackberry 10: Unspectacular, a bit sluggish, but generally competent and would have been just fine as a release in 2009. Now? It just feels a bit … dated. But, oddly enough, not as dated as the BB10 OS, which is both interesting (to me) and troubling (for Blackberry). Why doesn’t BB10 have at least this level of polish?

October 22

As expected, the Apple Store is now offline. That means it’s time for new toys, and that means it’s time for some wild and possibly inaccurate predictions!

What you will see today:

That delicious new Mac Pro. Oh yeah.
OS X Mavericks. We’ve had the golden master for a couple of weeks now, so I’d call for a November 1 release date.
A new (and stupidly fast) iPad in the same colour options as the iPhone 5S
A new iPad mini with a retina display. This will be the straw that breaks the traditional PC’s back.
New iMac models. Just because it’s time.

What you might see today:

New MacBooks. They don’t really need to update these now. I think that spring is a better bet here
The official release of the new (and platform-agnostic) iWork. Which, by the way, is a complete joy to use.
A new 4K cinema display. You’ll need two wallets to buy one, though.

What you won’t see today:

Any sort of goofball television set, wearable interface, or smart watch. And thank the maker for that.

And of course, one crazy-ass out-of-the-blue maybe:

A massive (and much-needed) iCloud makeover and complete functional update. Apple has stumbled badly with their online services – at their core they work, and work well. But for most users actually trying to use iCloud leaves them somewhere between mildly disenchanted and wildly disinterested. It’s getting close to make or break time for iCloud, and the fact that Apple has continually dropped the ball here is shameful. Consumers are starting to realize that the “free” services offered by Google are not free at all, and are becoming leery of freely handing over personal information. Apple’s business model for online services – monetizing a barrier to entry in return for the user’s peace of mind – is a good one. Their execution? In a word, sucky.

It should be a fun day. Grab yourself some snacks, tune into the presentation, and play along at home. New toys are fun!