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Articles: techwatch

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Tech Stuff
Friday, 2010 April 30 - 2:41 pm
So a brief interlude between all the lunch reviews and American Idol recaps... there are a few tidbits in the tech world that I need to comment on today.

Amy's iPad 3G arrived today. I'll post unboxing photos and a full overview of it later this weekend. As I noted in my Facebook status: the FedEx guy asked me, "What is this thing? We've had THOUSANDS of them being delivered today." For all the naysayers who figured it would bomb... there's a web site with a running tally of the estimated number of iPads online. As of this moment: over 1.1 million. Some estimates have Apple selling 7 million in 2010.

Meanwhile, Microsoft this week admitted that it would not be releasing its rumored "Courier" device. This thing made a splash a while back when the oh-so-reliable "We Buy Stolen Prototypes" Gizmodo web site claimed that Courier was a real device, in the "late prototype" stage of development. The basis for this was a completely artificial marketing concept video. My guess is that "Courier" had never gone much past the drawing board before Microsoft's developers realized there was no way they'd ever deliver such a device.

And also meanwhile, today HP announced that they were ceasing development on their "Slate" tablet device. Remember this? Microsoftians were certain that this vaporware product, hyped by Steve Ballmer, would easily trump the iPad. Microsoft likes to talk about how they were pioneers in tablet computing... funny how that never translated into any decent products.

I hope this is a lesson for people who are so quickly dismissive of Apple: there is an immense amount of engineering effort that goes into an Apple product, and it's really not easy for other companies to copy them, much less surpass them. Next time Apple comes up with a groundbreaking new device, and you start listing reasons why you'd rather stick with your outdated Creative Nomad MP3 player, your Palm Treo, or your Dell netbook... maybe you'll look back on this week's events and you'll open your mind just a bit.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

New MacBook Pro Lineup Announced Today
Tuesday, 2010 April 13 - 10:29 am
The skinny:

13" MacBook Pro:
  • Prices unchanged at $1199/$1499
  • CPU speed bumped from 2.26/2.53 GHz to 2.40/2.66 GHz; still Core2 Duo.
  • Standard RAM is 4GB on all models (previous low-end model was 2GB).
  • Standard hard drive lineup up from 160/250 GB to 250/320GB.
  • GPU is now GeForce 320M instead of GeForce 9400M (Apple says it's up to 80% faster)
  • Headphone port now supports iPhone headset
  • Battery life up from 7 hours to 10 hours

15" MacBook Pro:
  • Prices lineup went from $1699/$1999/$2299 to $1799/$1999/$2199
  • CPU options were 2.53/2.66 GHz Core2 Duo; now 2.4/2.53 GHz Core i5 or 2.66GHz Corei7
  • Standard hard drive lineup up from 250/320/500 GB to 320/500/500 GB
  • GPU is now IntelHD+GeForce GT 330M, instead of GeForce 9400M+9600M; auto-switches on the fly
  • New optional high-res 1680x1050 display
  • Headphone port now supports iPhone headset
  • Built-in subwoofer
  • Battery life up from 7 hours to 8-9 hours

17" MacBook Pro:
  • Prices dropped from $2499 to $2299
  • CPU options were 2.8/3.06GHz Core 2 Duo; now 2.53/2.66 GHz Core i7
  • GPU is now IntelHD+GeForce GT 330M, instead of GeForce 9400M+9600M; auto-switches on the fly
  • Headphone port now supports iPhone headset
  • Built-in subwoofer
  • Battery life up from 7 hours to 8-9 hours

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Friday, 2010 January 29 - 9:17 am
I'm reading a lot of "the iPad will be a failure" articles and comments lately. It just brings to mind all the "iPhone will be a failure" comments in 2007, and the "iPod will be a failure" comments in 2001. John C. Dvorak famously argued that Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone and license it out as a reference design to Samsung. Samsung. Or there was this famous Slashdot comment on the iPod: "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame." How many people nowadays even remember what a NOMAD was? (It was a bulky, awkward MP3 player from Creative Labs.)

It's true that not every Apple product has been a blockbuster success. Critics immediately point to the Newton and the AppleTV as examples of Apple failures. But the difference with those products is that Steve Jobs did not believe they'd be hits. The Newton was a product that Steve despised; he killed it as soon as he returned to Apple. He described the AppleTV as "hobby" for Apple, an experimental, a dip-your-toes-in-the-water kind of thing. But the things that Jobs predicted would be huge, the iPod and the iPhone, were huge.

And here we've got the iPad. And just like the Nomad user back in 2001, there are people all over the Internet saying things like, "No Flash. Does less than my netbook. Lame." I wonder whose comment will be enshrined in the punditry hall of shame two years from now?
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple iPad Thoughts
Wednesday, 2010 January 27 - 8:20 pm
So it's here, the iPad. The essential specs:

9.7" diagonal 1024x768 IPS LCD display
802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth, and optional 3G
1 GHz Apple A4 Processor
16GB, 32GB, or 64GB Flash
10-hour battery life
Microphone and speaker
30-pin dock connector
Accelerometer and compass; in the 3G version, GPS
iPhone OS 3.2; runs iPhone apps
$499 for 16GB/WiFi model; $829 for top-end 64GB/WiFi+3G model

I'll run through how I did with my predictions, and then give some more thoughts about the device.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple Tablet Coming Wednesday, According to Everyone
Monday, 2010 January 25 - 11:33 pm
It seems like everyone except for Apple themselves has confirmed that a new tablet computing device will be unveiled at their media event this Wednesday. It's a lot like the days leading up to the iPhone announcement: a lot of hype, a lot of speculation, and a lot of pundits (with no actual knowledge of what the product will be) predicting that it will fail.

So here's what I think about the tablet.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple Watch: 2010 Predictions
Friday, 2010 January 1 - 10:41 am
Happy New Year, everyone. It's time for my annual rundown of Apple predictions.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Wednesday, 2009 December 2 - 11:56 pm
I bought the Star Trek movie on Blu-Ray to showcase my new system... but not before I had put it on my NetFlix queue. So with both the DVD and the Blu-Ray disc here at the same time, I figured this would be a good chance to compare quality. I can tell you: even from ten feet away, the difference is noticeable.

Here's a closeup comparison. Click on the thumbnails for a larger image (a bit less than a quarter of the full screen).

I wasn't convinced before about how much I'd notice the difference... but I think it's safe to say that any movies that I purchase in the future will probably be Blu-Ray.

In other tech news, I'm a bit concerned about the new TV... on occasion, it's refused to display a picture from the HDMI inputs. I'm concerned because this is exactly the same problem other people on the Internets have complained about with this model. It seems to require some power-cycling and resetting to get things to work again... if the problem doesn't go away, I might have to (shudder) call for tech support.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Good Times
Wednesday, 2009 December 2 - 1:26 am
So first of all, I won a prize for NaBloPoMo, which is awesome because I never win prizes ever. And to top it off, it's actually something I appreciate: food. Some of the other prizes were baby bibs and handmade jewelry... I'm sure they're lovely, but I haven't worn a baby bib in like, months.

The prize is being provided by Elizabeth of Scarlet Words, which I immediately added to my RSS feed list and my sidebar because both the blog and the blogger are cute and brilliant.

In other news, Blu-Ray (PS3) plus new flat panel TV plus digital surround sound plus Star Trek equals geekgasm. Even Amy shuddered at the awesomeness. Sunday will be movie night here... let me know if you want to come over.
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Posted by Ken in: bloggerstechwatch

Gaming Like It's 2006
Friday, 2009 November 27 - 8:34 pm
I've never been the sort of guy who needs to have the hottest gaming computer to play the most recent, graphically intensive games. I find that playing three-year-old games on hardware that's less than state-of-the-art has a lot of advantages.

For one thing, I can wait for other people to figure out which games are any good. For another, I save a bunch of money on both hardware and software... I spent just $8 picking up a copy of Bioshock, which runs just fine on my Mac mini under Boot Camp. And I don't believe I'm having any less fun playing it now than I would have if I'd picked it up for $50 when it was new.

What should I pick up next? Perhaps Halo 2?
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Television Upgrade
Monday, 2009 November 23 - 4:37 pm
Well, I've bit the bullet, and decided not to wait for a Black Friday deal: I'm finally ditching my old behemoth rear-projection TV for an LCD flat panel model. (Amy will be enormously pleased to recover some square footage in our living room.) Sony has a promotion going on right now: discounted TVs along with a free Playstation 3. I'm not terribly interested in having another game console to suck down my time and money, but the PS3 is one of the best Blu-Ray players available, so it's worth it just for that.

Nice things about the new TV, as compared to my old one:
  • Won't suffer from color convergence drift (color fuzzing that results from the color beams being misaligned, requiring periodic refocusing)
  • Won't have odd red lines (Trinitron artifacts?) crossing the screen (this developed after a power surge; the lines makes Amy think of the stripes you see in salmon meat)
  • Better viewing angles (rear projection really had a problem with this)
  • HDMI inputs and digital audio output, for better integration with my home theater
  • Occupies ten times less floor space

The only bad thing I can think of is that it doesn't have the picture-by-picture mode that my old TV has, which is far superior to the picture-in-picture mode that the cable box provides.

The TV should arrive in less than a week. Whee, reckless consumerism! I mean... whee, doing my part to stimulate the economy!

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Posted by Ken in: techwatchtelevision

Not Good
Wednesday, 2009 November 18 - 12:44 pm
In local economic news, Sony Ericsson is closing its RTP facility. 425 jobs will be lost. I can't say I'm surprised, but all the same, it sucks for the people working there.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

We live in the future
Thursday, 2009 November 5 - 8:29 am
I'm sure others have said this before, but the iPhone really makes me feel like I live in the future. Here I am, blogging from my phone in an airport. All my travel info is stored on my phone. While in flight, I can bring up an app that gives me a virtual cockpit display. (Or can I? Are you allowed to use GPS on an airplane? Guess I'll find out shortly.)

By the way, I've never been a Blackberry-style thumb typer before, but I'm just now discovering that it seems to be more efficient for me when I'm in landscape mode.

Also discovered today: if you use frequent flyer miles on American, you get priority seating (exit row) and priority boarding. Sweet.

Gotta go, boarding now!
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Motorola/Google/Verizon Droid Phone Friday
Wednesday, 2009 November 4 - 12:40 pm
The new "Droid" phone, built by Motorola with Google's Android software, will be available on the Verizon network this Friday. All the preliminary reports indicate that it's an impressive phone, with features and quality to rival the iPhone.

So of course, everyone's calling it an "iPhone killer". Of course, they said that about the Blackberry Storm and the Palm Pre, and the iPhone certainly isn't dead yet.

You know, I would love to see the iPhone get some real competition. I would love to see other companies get innovative and come up with something revolutionary. But unfortunately, it seems like the best anyone can do is to build a product that's almost as good as what Apple already developed two years ago. Sure, you can talk about Android's open development policies, or things like physical keyboards and removable batteries, but those aren't revolutionary. It's as if Motorola, Google, and Verizon started with the iPhone, wrote down every complaint anyone has ever had about it, and then blended everything together into the Droid phone. There just aren't any new ideas there. Apple's iPhone, when it came out, was truly new. There would be no Pre or Droid without the groundbreaking precedents established by the iPhone.

There are certainly inferior products and technologies that have achieved market dominance, by virtue of being first, being cheaper, or aided by a monopoly. But the iPhone competitors have none of those crutches. So listen up, makers of would-be iPhone "killers": this isn't one of those cases where you can just make something "good enough" and hope to succeed simply on anti-Apple sentiment. Make something better. Spend some brainpower and R&D money on making something truly new. I'm a long-time user and admirer of Apple products, but that doesn't mean I don't want Apple to face some competition. We all want to see innovation. And what we don't need is for another Microsoftian purveyor of copy-cat inferior technology to rise to market dominance.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

New iMac, Mac mini, Macbook, as expected
Tuesday, 2009 October 20 - 12:17 pm
The quick scoop:

New iMac: Now with display sizes 21.5" (at 1920x1080, true 1080p!) and an enormous 27" (at 2560x1440). All the models now sport a 3.06 GHz Core 2 Duo, except the top end, which gets a 2.66 GHz quad-core Core i5. 4GB of RAM even on the base model. Hard drive boosted to 500GB on the low-end model (from 320GB) and 1TB on the others (from 640GB). Graphics are 9400M on the low-end model, ATI Radeon 4670 HD on the mid-range models, and ATI Radeon 4850 HD on the high end; perhaps Apple's rumored falling-out with Nvidia is real after all. SD card slot built in. Build-to-order options include a 3.3 GHz Core 2 Duo, or a 2.8 GHz quad-core Core i7 on the high end model.

There's no Blu-Ray, and the pricing range still starts at $1199; the top-end drops from $2199 to $1999.

The high-end model is definitely targeted for pro users who don't want to go all the way to the Mac Pro. The mid-range models are for high-end consumers. The low-end version is an exceptional entry level machine; if not for the slightly underpowered graphics (for gaming enthusiasts), it'd be the clear value winner.

New Mac mini. No form factor change, just a processor speed bump (to 2.26 GHz and 2.53 GHz), a RAM upgrade on the low-end to 2GB (at last!), and a hard-drive upgrade on the low-end to 160GB. No price cut.

There's also a dual hard drive, no optical drive version that comes with Mac OS X Server! This is the special, I guess; we'd heard inklings about this back in January, and it's finally come to fruition.

New Macbook. Still a white polycarbonate shell, but Apple says this is a "unibody" design, and with somewhat rounded edges for a sleeker appearance. It's a quarter inch deeper and wider, but a third of a pound lighter. Multi-touch glass trackpad, like on the Pro models. Non-removable 7-hour battery. Slightly faster processor (2.26 GHz), larger hard drive (250 GB), but no more Firewire port. LED-backlit display. No price cut (remains $999); odd for a machine with largely the same specs as its predecessor.

Magic Mouse. Apple's new multi-touch button-less mouse; right click by touching the right side as you "click" the whole mouse, scroll by simply moving your finger across the surface, swipe using a two-finger gesture. Slick.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple Store is Down
Tuesday, 2009 October 20 - 9:10 am
The Apple Store is down, a sure sign that new products are getting ready to be introduced. Stay tuned.

Also, Apple announced blowout revenues and profits last quarter, sending their stock soaring. As of this writing, the stock is just shy of $200.

More news shortly.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple: New Macs coming?
Sunday, 2009 October 18 - 10:54 am
The iMac is approaching the end of its usual 6-month release cycle. With the holiday season approaching, it's quite possible we'll see a new model come out... and it might even come out this week, to take some of the headlines away from Windows 7. I can already see the ad campaign: John Hodgman will be fretting over how to upgrade to Windows 7 without losing all his data, while Justin Long will note how new Mac users can simply go to the Apple Genius Bar if they switch from PC to Mac.

There's very little information, or even speculation, on what the new iMacs will include. Some say Blu-Ray will be an option, some say not. Some say Intel Core i7 ("Nehalem") processors will be included. Most predict a thinner enclosure and a price cut.

There's also talk of a new Mac mini to go along with the new iMacs, but at this point, I'd expect just a RAM and hard drive boost, plus a $100 price cut. The 1GB of RAM and 120GB HD on the base model is just inexcusable; the wholesale price difference to make that 2GB and 200GB has got to be on the order of fifteen bucks.

Meanwhile, there's buzz about the Mac Pro getting Intel's new six-core "Gulftown" Core i9 processors. That probably won't happen until sometime early next year.

On the laptop front, a new low-end Macbook to replace the aging white polycarbonate design seems very likely. It might not have an aluminum enclosure like the Pro models, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a thinner, lighter enclosure and a non-removable battery. A price cut seems quite possible as well, as Apple wouldn't really be introducing much in the way of cutting-edge components.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple Quietly Introduces "iFrame" Video Format
Sunday, 2009 October 18 - 10:36 am
This will be of interest to only one or two of my regular readers, I'm sure.

Last week, Sanyo came out with new camcorders that support a video format called "iFrame", and it's a format developed by Apple. It appears to be a 960x540 H.264 video format; that's exactly one-quarter the size of 1920x1080 HD video.

Why the new format? My guess is: Apple wanted a standard camcorder format based on H.264, so that iMovie could edit the video without trans-coding first. Also, Apple wanted a widescreen (16:9) format with square pixels (not anamorphic) that took up less space than HD video. Most camcorders today use 720x480 for SD video, but that's not a widescreen format.

So why come out with this now? The conventional wisdom is that Apple is planning a video push in two areas: one, the long-neglected AppleTV device, and two, the much-rumored tablet device. It's conceivable that Apple would choose iFrame to publish non-HD TV shows, to avoid having to letterbox the video.

Expect to see an announcement from Apple soon.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Today's Apple Announcements
Wednesday, 2009 September 9 - 6:30 pm
Apple held a media event today, and despite the coincident timing with the Beatles Rock Band release, it had nothing to do with releasing Beatles music on iTunes.

Perhaps the biggest news was the fact that Steve Jobs himself gave the presentation, a sign to worried shareholders that Jobs was indeed back in charge. However, Steve is looking more and more Grand Moff Tarkin-esque every day... hopefully he'll start putting on some weight now that he's recovered from his transplant surgery.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Five Lessons: Mac Versus PC Myths
Saturday, 2009 August 29 - 12:26 pm
With yesterday's release of Mac OS X "Snow Leopard", and the imminent release of Windows 7, I thought this would be a good time to cover some common misconceptions of the whole Mac versus PC question.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Wednesday, 2009 July 29 - 5:35 pm
Here's a good one. Apple Hints at OSX on PCs. The logic behind this is that Apple is implicitly sanctioning a hack that would allow Mac OS X to run on Dell Mini netbook computers.

But what really happened is that someone posted a link to a hackintosh utility (a bootloader that would allow Mac OS X to boot on a Dell Mini) on some Dell forum website. Dell didn't take action against this post, and Apple didn't take action against Dell for not taking action. Somehow, inaction over inaction over unsanctioned user activity has become Apple officially "hinting" at something that makes no business sense whatsoever. Come on.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Circular Reasoning
Wednesday, 2009 July 29 - 5:27 pm
There's an increasing problem in the Interwebs these days. It goes something like this.
  • A blogger or small-time web site posts an unsubstantiated rumor or speculation about something (like, say, an Apple "iTablet").
  • A semi-mainstream media outlet, like CNet's, picks up on the rumor, but makes the rumor sound like fact by putting a headline on it like "Apple ready to release iTablet this fall".
  • Executives from companies unrelated to the rumor (like record company execs) read these reports and speculate about the rumored product.
  • Mainstream media outlets publish these quotes as evidence that the rumored product is actually coming to market.
  • Bloggers quote the mainstream media article and now reference the rumor as certainty.

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Posted by Ken in: bloggerstechwatch

Apple WWDC Announcements
Monday, 2009 June 8 - 8:35 pm
A few Apple goings-on today from the World Wide Developer Conference, for those who haven't been following:

iPhone 3GS. Apple announced slightly improved iPhone, with a faster processor, faster 3G networking, more storage, longer battery life, an improved 3 megapixel camera with autofocus, video recording, and a compass. It comes at the same price points as the previous iPhone, $199 and $299 (for 16GB and 32GB) with a two-year AT&T contract. Apple is also selling the previous-generation iPhone 3G for $99, which might bring in a lot of entry-level buyers.

Macbook Pro. Two announcements here: an upgraded 15" MBP with an improved screen, twice the RAM (4GB standard), and a faster CPU. The battery is now integrated and non-replaceable, but it's a lithium-polymer long-lasting battery like in the 17" model. An SD card slot replaces the ExpressCard slot; Apple says that very few users made use of the ExpressCard slot except to add a media card reader. There's also now an entry-level model at $1699, with only the Nvidia GeForce 9400M instead of the dual-GPU option in the higher-end models.

The 13" Aluminum Macbook is now a 13" MacBook Pro; it gets the Firewire port back (now FW800) and gains an SD card slot also. Now only the white Macbook is called a "Macbook". It was recently speed-bumped also.

Macbook Air. The main news is that it's now cheaper; it starts at $1499.

The rest of the WWDC keynote speech was devoted to descriptions about iPhone OS 3.0 and the upcoming Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" update. One tidbit: the Snow Leopard update will be just $29; Apple (rightly) figures that customers won't shell out a full $129 for a bunch of largely-invisible under-the-hood improvements. (Cough Windows 7 cough).

iPhone OS 3.0 will support MMS and tethering (finally), but AT&T won't support either until later this summer. There's no word on pricing plans for tethering, but judging from AT&T's tethering plans for other phones, it'll be pricey.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Saturday, 2009 May 16 - 10:19 am
Lately we've been getting robocalls at 8:00 in the morning, from someone trying to tell us that we need to update our account information for "the Internet", because apparently the we are behind on our payments.

Also, my web site has been seeing more and more comment spam.

Here's the thing: I'm supposed to have mechanisms to stop both of these things from happening, but they're not working right.

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Posted by Ken in: site-businesstechwatch

In the News
Tuesday, 2009 April 28 - 1:06 pm
Sometimes I feel guilty about not posting more often. It's not just that my blog is being neglected (and that recent entries are dominated by American Idol posts), but also that I often see interesting stories in the news that seem like they'd be worth a quick comment.

On the other hand, sometimes I don't really have much to say about those stories, so I'm not sure if anyone would care for my one-line analysis. Eh. It's my blog, I guess, so whatevah, I do what I want.

So anyway, read on for a couple of newsworthy tidbits.

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Posted by Ken in: commentarypoliticstechwatch

Worst Business Decision Ever
Tuesday, 2009 April 14 - 4:54 pm
In Beaumont, Texas, Time Warner Cable has been experimenting with bandwidth caps on its high-speed internet service. They're trying a tiered pricing model where light users get 5 GB per month, and heavy users get 40 GB per month. Exceed the limit, you pay $1 per GB. The fee is capped at $150 total per month, so that will be the new price of unlimited internet access... a three-fold increase over their current price.

Now, they want to expand the trial to more cities, and eventually, they want to roll this out nationwide.

This is a terrible, terrible idea. I hope web site operators, many of whom have founded their business models on users having unlimited internet access, rail against this idea. I hope consumers, who probably don't even realize how much bandwidth they're consuming, refuse to have the internet doled out to them in metered parcels.

Here's the thing: cable modem providers have a near monopoly on Internet services in some areas. There are places where DSL currently doesn't reach, or only reaches with diminished performance (like my house). Plus, current users who use an email address have a barrier to switching providers, much like cell phone users used to have trouble switching carriers (before the government made it mandatory that phone numbers be made portable for free). So Time Warner's plan is little more than a plan to wring extra money out of their top customers. They'll get to advertise that they have the highest broadband speeds ("Turbo Boost! 10 megabits per second!") but they'll conveniently omit the fact that at that speed, you can exceed your monthly download quota in just half a day.

I won't stand for it. If this comes to the Raleigh area, I'm done with Time Warner. I'll find some other way. Maybe DSL will have improved here by then, or Verizon FIOS will be available here. Maybe there'll be some sort of high-speed fixed wireless access I can get. But listen to me, Time Warner weasels: you're taxing my patience with your cable rates as it is. If you add internet metering to your money-grubbing methods, you've lost me as a customer. I've already created a new domain name to move my remaining collection of email addresses. I'm tempted to offer free email accounts to any users who drop your service in response to this move.

When will corporations learn? It doesn't pay to piss off your best customers.
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Posted by Ken in: commentarytechwatch

Facebook and Photos
Sunday, 2009 March 29 - 3:50 pm
For those of you not following along on Facebook, I've started posting photos there. For a long time, I resisted using hosted photo-sharing sites like Flickr... I figured I could do just as well with my own site, and I thought that would give me more control.

I used Apple's iWeb and MobileMe (née for a while, but they kept changing the dang publishing system, so it's hard to keep everything straight. They've got yet another photo hosting system available now (MobileMe Gallery), but I don't feel like I can trust Apple not to replace it with something else. Apple is still inexplicably behind the curve when it comes to Web 2.0 stuff. What's up with that?

But Facebook is a pretty nice way to post photos. I can control who can see the photos by regulating my friends list. Tagging is effortless, and commenting is simple. And best of all, iPhoto '09 has built-in support for publishing to Facebook.

I'll still include photos in my blog posts here on, but when it comes to posting whole albums, Facebook is where I'll do it.

If you're a friend and you want to find me on Facebook, you can do it here. But please, if you're someone I haven't seen in ten years and we were never really that close anyway, don't be offended if I don't accept your friend request... you know? I try to keep my friends list restricted to people I really consider to be friends. (In fact, I'm trying to figure out how to pare down my existing friends list without seeming like a jerk. What's the etiquette for de-friending someone?)
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Posted by Ken in: commentarylifetechwatch

Mac mini
Sunday, 2009 March 29 - 3:30 pm
I've had my Mac mini for a few weeks now, and thus far, I love it. Especially nice is the fact that's it's practically silent. By comparison, my old G4 sounds like a vacuum cleaner with its continuous whooshing.

The process of cracking the mini open to upgrade the memory and hard drive was a bit heart-breaking, because I put a few scratches into the bottom casing as I was doing it. I guess it's not noticeable (since it's on the bottom), but still... I hate to blemish a pristine system.

According to XBench, the mini is roughly 2.5 times faster than my G4. Actually, I'm surprised at how well the G4 still holds up by comparison. It's possible that if I were to upgrade the CPU and graphics card on the G4, I could make it run almost as fast as the mini. But then again, it would cost more to buy those upgrades than it would to buy a new mini.

Gaming-wise, the Nvidia 9400M isn't too shabby. If I boot into Windows, City of Heroes runs smoothly at high resolutions with most effects turned on. Unfortunately, the Mac CoH client bogs down at times; the Cider translation engine isn't quite good enough for the 9400M. But still, the Mac CoH is at least playable, and I can always boot into Windows if I want the better performance.

Migrating data from my G4 hasn't quite gone as smoothly as I'd hoped, but I think that's mostly because my G4 is still running 10.4 Tiger and older versions of Mail and iLife. I've managed to port over all my email, my RSS subscriptions, and my photos. I haven't done iTunes yet.

All in all, a worthwhile purchase. And as I said before, the nice thing about the mini is that it can easily be repurposed into a server or media box if I choose to upgrade again in a few years.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Whoo Michigan Whoo
Thursday, 2009 March 19 - 8:39 pm
Well, after a ten year NCAA tournament drought, Michigan comes into the dance this year with a big opening round win over Clemson. (Sorry, Margo.) Go Blue!

CBS, irritatingly, kept switching away from the Michigan game to show other games. But to CBS's credit, you can watch any tournament game online on their web site. They use Microsoft Silverlight to stream the video, and you know, the picture quality was pretty dang good. CBS and Microsoft doing something right, AND Michigan wins an NCAA tournament game... strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
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Posted by Ken in: sportstechwatch

New iPod Shuffle Today
Wednesday, 2009 March 11 - 8:41 am
Ridiculously small.

By the way, props to John Gruber over at Daring Fireball, for his remarkably prescient prediction about the new Shuffle's voice navigation features.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Moore's Law
Tuesday, 2009 March 10 - 10:37 pm
N.C. State is having an e-recycling event tomorrow, so tonight I stripped down an old PowerMac G3 and a PowerMac 8100 to bring in. I'd already taken most of the parts out of those machines, but it turns out the G3 still had 384MB of RAM in it, and the 8100 still had 64MB and a G3 upgrade card.

This led me to remember the first Mac our family bought around 20 years ago, the original Mac II, for somewhere north of $5000. It came with a 16MHz processor, 1MB of RAM, and a 120MB hard drive. We eventually upgraded to 4MB for something like another $500.

The Mac mini that I'm getting? It has a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. It's hard to compare that directly to a 16MHz 68020, but just in terms of clock speed and number of cores, that's 250 times faster, for one tenth the price. It comes with a 120GB hard drive (1000 times more storage than the Mac II); I'm upgrading it to 320GB (2600 times more storage). I'm getting 4GB of RAM, 1000 times more than I put into the Mac II, for $70. That's 8000 times more memory per dollar.

It used to be that a terabyte hard drive was just an unfathomably ridiculous amount of storage. Now terabyte can be had for less than $200. It used to be that all the technogeeks boasted of 2400 bps modems; now we're online at speeds 2000 times faster.

In some ways, it makes me feel old that I remember the primitive days of 1980s computing. But I'm also glad about the fact that I'll (hopefully) still be around twenty years from now, when our laptops can accurately model all of our biological processes in real-time, and when we can store the entire contents of our brains (somewhere around a petabyte) on a two-inch portable drive.

After all, it's important to keep backups.
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Decisions, Decisions
Wednesday, 2009 March 4 - 9:03 pm
So it comes down to this. I could get a high-end iMac and have it last me for five years, or I could get a Mac mini and replace it in two years. A mini can easily be repurposed into a server; an iMac has to remain a useful as a desktop because it really can't be anything else.

I can get the bottom-end mini and add my own RAM and upgraded hard drive; I'm pretty sure I could put in 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive from Other World Computing for less than $200. So if I go the mini route, I could probably come in under $800.

If I go for the iMac, I'd probably have to shell out $1799 or $2199 to get something that would last. But then I'd have a pretty decent gaming rig, and I wouldn't have to use a putty knife to get the specs up to what I want. Also I'd have the nice 24" screen.

But you know, it's not like I play many computer games any more, other than City of Heroes, which doesn't really need a fast GPU. Maybe I'd start playing more computer games if I had a machine that supported them? Yeah, that's just what I need, something to consume more of my free time.

I think I'm leaning towards the mini. Slightly.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

The Skinny on the New Macs
Tuesday, 2009 March 3 - 11:28 am
A comparison of the previous generation desktops to the newly released models.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Breaking News: Entire Mac Desktop Line Updated Today
Tuesday, 2009 March 3 - 8:49 am
OMG. Updated Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro out today. At long last!

More later....
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Still No New Macs
Tuesday, 2009 January 27 - 8:21 pm
The 25th anniversary of the Macintosh has come and gone. And Tuesday is Apple's usual product announcement day, and now that's come and gone too. No new iMacs, no new Mac minis, no new Mac Pros.

Kill. Ing. Me.

Apple's desktop sales have declined 25% since last year, and a large part of it has to be due to people like me, who are anxiously awaiting a desktop refresh.

An analyst has now come out with a prediction that new iMacs will come in March... or June. JUNE. I may be dead by then.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple Announces Record Revenue and Profits
Wednesday, 2009 January 21 - 11:36 pm
$10.17 billion in sales. $1.78 per share in profit. After this afternoon's earnings announcement, which blew past consensus analyst estimates, Apple stock surged ten bucks in after-hours trading.

Did I mention I bought some Apple stock this morning? Yay me!
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple Watch: MacBook White Quietly Upgraded
Wednesday, 2009 January 21 - 12:01 pm
This is a surprise. The "old" white polycarbonate MacBook has been upgraded to Nvidia 9400M graphics and 2GB of RAM. This means that for $999, $300 less than the entry-level aluminum MacBook, you get nearly the same performance. You give up the aluminum case and the LED-backlit display, and you get slightly slower RAM, but hey, 300 bucks, man. Oh, also, you pick up a Firewire port, and you get a regular mini-DVI port instead of the DisplayPort connector.

This machine seemed like a clearance item until today. Now it's got some real appeal. Does Apple simply have a lot of leftover polycarbonate cases to get rid of?
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Steve Jobs
Thursday, 2009 January 15 - 9:56 am
From Steve Jobs, yesterday:


I am sure all of you saw my letter last week sharing something very personal with the Apple community. Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.

In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for Apple's day to day operations, and I know he and the rest of the executive management team will do a great job. As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out. Our board of directors fully supports this plan.

I look forward to seeing all of you this summer.


There are a panoply of irritating responses to this memo.

1. "We'll SUE Apple for not disclosing this earlier!" Give me a break. You'll sue someone for not disclosing a personal, private health concern that he didn't know about until this week? And inflict further harm on the company that you're so heavily invested in? Good luck with that.

2. "What will happen now that Jobs is gone?" Jobs is not gone. He'll be back in a few months. He didn't announce his death, he announced a leave of absence.

3. "How will Apple survive without Jobs running it?" It's funny how Jobs is perceived unlike every other CEO in the country, as if his 24-hour-a-day job were to sit in an ivory tower and magically generate innovative ideas for his underlings to produce. No, he has to deal with operational budgets and capital expenditures and contract negotiations and management structures; i.e., the ordinary management tedium that every company has. That's his day-to-day work, and the other executives at Apple are just as good at that stuff as Jobs, if not more so. Jobs can still axe bad product ideas while lying on a hammock in Cancun, and trust me, he will.

But you know what? Shareholders: please, go ahead and panic about this. I've got a bunch of cash that's waiting to jump on Apple stock once it's dirt-cheap.
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January 24
Tuesday, 2009 January 13 - 5:15 pm
That must be the date for new Macs to be introduced. Why? It's the 25th anniversary of the Mac's original introduction in 1984.

If not, I will continue wringing my hands in frustration.
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Lenses, Joy of Ken's Desiring
Wednesday, 2009 January 7 - 9:58 pm
As my friend Scott predicted, I am already craving new lenses for my recently acquired EOS 40D. The one I really want is the 50mm f/1.4 IS USM lens. Indoor head-and-shoulders photography is probably what I'll be doing 75% of the time, and this seems to fit the bill perfectly.

It seems like the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens would be useful too, especially outdoors. When I went to Costa Rica, I remember wishing I had a high quality zoom lens for taking pictures of birds and crocodiles and such.

Did I mention my birthday is coming up in less than two months?
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Posted by Ken in: lifetechwatch

No New Mac Desktops at Macworld
Tuesday, 2009 January 6 - 1:42 pm
FOR. CRYING. OUT. LOUD. How long will you make me wait, Apple?

Full Macworld keynote report later.
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Macworld Eve
Monday, 2009 January 5 - 9:15 pm
On the eve of the Macworld keynote, the Mac blogosphere is abuzz with speculation about what will be announced. Most are along the lines of the predictions I made in my last post.

One noteworthy item that's already confirmed: Steve Jobs does not have a life-threatening illness. Apple posted a PR announcement about it. It's virtually unprecedented for a company to post a PR announcement about the private health concerns of its CEO, but when it comes to Apple, a lot of people were making a stink that shareholders had a "right" to know about Jobs.

I love Jobs' letter. It has kind of a "it's none of your damn business, but I'm telling you so you'll shut the hell up about it" air to it, and that's just perfect. Go Steve.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Apple Watch: 2009 Predictions
Thursday, 2009 January 1 - 4:06 pm
My annual set of predictions regarding our favorite computer company.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Camera OMG Camera
Tuesday, 2008 December 30 - 5:21 pm
I finally have a real camera. Now I just need to find a bowl of fruit, a guy jumping something with a skateboard, and a woman on a horse, and my journey to becoming a photographer will be complete.

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Posted by Ken in: lifetechwatch

Comment Spam and IE
Tuesday, 2008 December 16 - 2:46 pm
Well, I've finally hit the big time, I guess. I've started to get comment spam. I have anti-spam measures on this site but they're not foolproof. So I've gone back through my old posts and I've closed comments for all but a few of them (a couple that still get useful comments, and the most recent posts.)

My guess is that the spam is intended to get people to visit an infected web site that will exploit the recently-discovered, zero-day, unpatched security hole in all versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer. Folks, if you're still using MSIE... stop. Just stop. Download Firefox or Safari and use them whenever you can. Microsoft's response to this issue is just pathetic.

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Posted by Ken in: site-businesstechwatch

Apple Watch: New MacBooks
Tuesday, 2008 October 14 - 5:39 pm
Apple announced new MacBooks today. The new 13" MacBook and the 15" MacBook Pro feature one-piece aluminum frames, LED-backlit displays, and new multi-touch trackpads. The non-Pro versions now have Nvidia 9400M GPUs, a vast improvement over the old models' Intel x3100 GMA integrated graphics. The Pro versions have the 9400M plus an Nvidia 9600M; users can choose to switch to the less power-hungry 9400M to improve battery life.

The older MacBook is now the "MacBook White" and is available starting at $999.

The new MacBooks are very nice and all, but Apple: you're killing me by not putting out a new Mac mini. Seriously. The mini hasn't been updated in 14 months. I would have bought a new mini TODAY if it had been introduced with the 9400M GPU. I have a bazillion monitors; I don't need any computer with an attached monitor (i.e., an iMac or a MacBook) and I don't want to shell out $2800 for the Mac Pro. Sigh.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Woo New iPhone Woo
Monday, 2008 June 9 - 2:57 pm
The short version:

- 3G wireless
- Improved battery
- Improved audio
- $199 for 8GB, $299 for 16GB
- Available July 11

I think I'm most surprised by the depth of the price cut. That's half the price of the previous generation 8GB model ($399), and one-third the price of the original 8GB model ($599). Apple must be working some serious magic with volume component discounts to get the price down that quickly.

Immediate question: how long will the iPhone remain AT&T-only?

I'll have more WWDC commentary shortly, covering the new MobileMe service (which replaces dot.mac) and the new iPhone applications.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

New iPhone "Imminent"
Monday, 2008 May 12 - 12:32 pm
Web sites are abuzz with the rumor that a new iPhone is imminent. The two latest signs:
  • The iPhone is out of stock in Apple stores all over the world, and the online store lists it as "currently unavailable".
  • AT&T has a new option for iPhone Black on its customer phone selection web page; this matches rumors that the new iPhone will have a black plastic backing instead of its current aluminum one.
Apple often makes product announcements on Tuesdays. We'll see what happens tomorrow.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

We might have to go through with this thing after all
Friday, 2008 May 2 - 5:28 pm
Flush the bombers, get the subs in launch mode. The on-again, off-again Microsoft-Yahoo merger might be on again.

A lot has already been written about the proposed merger, and my overall take is that most business guys seem to think it's a great idea, and most technology guys seem to think it's a terrible idea. Both arguments have some merit. I figured I'd take a little time to explore the pros and cons.

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

Thursday, 2008 April 24 - 9:30 am
Remember this post, where I noted the recurring pattern of Apple's stock plunging after announcing first quarter results, only to have the stock completely over the course of the year? Remember when I said Wall Street investors must be idiots?

The day before the announcement, on January 22nd, Apple stock closed at $159.64. The day after, on January 23rd, Apple stock plunged to $139.07. The stock eventually hit a low just under $120 per share.

As of right now, Apple's stock price is $162.55.

Apple's second quarter earnings report indicated a remarkable rise in Mac sales. Though iPod sales were essentially flat compared to last year, I think the Mac sales number is more important; Apple will pick up a much larger "halo effect" as new Mac owners purchase more software, accessories, and upgrades.

Watch for the stock to rise considerably in the run-up to the rumored introduction of the 3G iPhone. And for those who are interested, a 3G iPhone has become a stronger possibility now that one of the two major obstacles has (according to the rumor mill) been resolved: Apple may have found a low-power chipset that will allow for 3G communication. I'm still not sure how they plan to address AT&T's poor 3G coverage; perhaps they'll still market the current iPhone for areas not covered by 3G, at a reduced price.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

MacBook Air
Sunday, 2008 March 16 - 11:55 am
macbook air in boxFor my birthday, Amy got me a MacBook Air.

Now, this isn't something I would have bought for myself. It's not that I didn't want it... it's just such a luxury item, I would have felt bad getting it for myself. So in that respect, it's a perfect present: something I really want but wouldn't buy for myself.

Amy was worried that I didn't like it, since it's taken me so long to blog about it. Nothing could be further from the truth... I love love love my new baby. Meet the new addition to the family, "Liesel".

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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

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