All those little things that make iOS/iPhone great

It is interesting to see reviews of smart phones and the focus is always on the ‘big things’ that really stand out when in reality it is the culmination of those small niceties rather than one or two major big things that really draw an end user in. Here are some of the niceties that keep me within the Apple ecosystem, more specifically, the iOS ecosystem:

1) Integration with OS X – my favourite feature is being able to answer the phone on my computer and make phone calls as well. Ring up an organisation and being put on hold but not having to physically have the phone up against my ear the whole time I’m waiting. When thinking about it without having used it the idea seems pretty simple but having used it so many times I feel lost when faced in a situation where I don’t have that option.

2) iCloud gets a lot of flack (and rightfully so in many cases) for its down time but when it does work it works very well – from the email service through to the keychain sync, the use of open standards when it comes to syncing: IMAP, CalDAV and CardDAV meaning that you’re never exclusively bound to the Apple ecosystem – if you want to keep using OS X but have some other branded phone you can still sync your contacts, calendaring and email without having to worry about dealing with weird proprietary protocols.

3) When the next version of iOS is released, be it an update or upgrade, everyone receives it rather than having a carrier artificially holding up or the OEM deciding that your particular market isn’t worth supporting for the long term – I’m looking at you Samsung and HTC ಠ_ಠ In this day and age there is no reason why Android is announced then it takes up to a year for an update to finally trickle out to end users – and if you choose to release 100 models and it slows down your Android building then that isn’t the problem of the end user, cut the number of models and focus on a core set of models so then you can deliver a consistent after market support experience.

4) For all the faults that iTunes has when compared to the alternatives for their respective smart phone devices I find that iTunes still does the best job for what needs to be done. HTC Sync Manager and Kies on OS X (and I’d hazard to guess also the same situation Windows) is just plain horrible. It is one thing to maybe relegating OS X users to an after thought but when your primary base uses Windows then you’d think that maybe some care and attention would be spent on making their software polished so that the over all experience is enjoyable. Yes, I have been told that there are alternatives such as uploading my music to some sort of cloud drive yadda yadda yadda which makes what should be a 5 minute sync into a 5 hour clusterfuck that I’m sure no sane person would want to make themselves go through unless absolutely necessary.

5) The focus on delivering the complete widget – software and hardware. Nothing quite grinds my gears more than hearing someone ranting on about hardware specifications but are silent when ever it comes to the software. It is the software that makes the hardware usable and thus it is the software that dictates whether the experience is good or bad. For example, HTC has some great hardware but their camera in the M9 was plagued from day one with immature software and firmware which has since been resolved with 2 major updates plus many individual software updates through the Play Store but the point still remains that the initial immaturity of the software has haunted their perception in mind of many tech savvy people – even those who are long time HTC fans.

Samsung is no better when their long lead time between Google announcing a new Android release then it eventually making its way out to the end user where in many cases it isn’t the carrier that holds it all up but rather it is Samsung who does. Reminds me very much of an end user berating Vodafone NZ for not getting an update for his Samsung Galaxy phone but in reality it had already began approved 12 weeks prior and it was Samsung themselves who were holding up the deployment of the update. The worse part with the Android build Samsung provide is all the crapware that end users have to endure – if I wanted drop box I’d go out of my way to actually download it so I don’t need it pre-installed and impossible to uninstall without rooting my device and possibly voiding my warranty in the process.

6) Not being the first but getting it right. Something that people ignore is that it is all very well to boast that you get something first but it is an unworkable mess for 2 years then really the thing one is boasting about might as well not exist in the first place. Take Google Wallet for example and the common complaint about Apple Pay is that ‘Android had it first’ to which I ask, “and how usable was it in the real world?” Apple might not be the first but when they do something they tend to get it pretty much on the mark – Apple Pay was a large undertaking because rather than just throwing something out there then hoping by osmosis that financial organisations gravitate towards it is a plan that is doomed to failure. You have to work with those financial institutions – listen to their concerns and develop it in conjunction where you get what you want whilst also recognising that they have legitimate concerns that need to be take into account. Reminds me very much of Nokia who were last to the coloured screens way back in the ‘good old days’ but when they entered the market they delivered a great product that wasn’t riddled with the problems that other phones suffered from (battery life issues, poor text readability etc).

7) The audio and earphones out of the don’t suck – I have a nice pair of Sennheiser earphones which are great when on the train or when going for a stroll through the mall but when it comes to a good pair of ‘in the ears’ buds for when I’m riding my scooter nothing beats the quality. In the past the in the ear buds were horrible; the lack of bass, major distortion as soon as you push the volume just a smidgen higher than what the earphones could handle etc. but it seems that Apple have really fixed that. Compared to other vendors you’ll find that many still suffer from that very problem with especially when it comes to audio configuration – buy an Android phone then having to run off to the Google store to pay for an equaliser application just so you can boost the bass (yes, there are free ones but they’re all god nagware in them that keep asking whether I’m interested in purchasing xyz from some company I have never heard of nor care about).

Watch this space, I’ll be doing one for OS X and Mac’s.

The next day…

My heart felt thanks go out to the defence force and all those who attended dad’s funeral yesterday ( link ) as the support has allowed the family to work through the avalanche of emotions that have been unleashed after dad’s death. The one aspect of the day I really loved was the fact that it wasn’t a day where people sat around crying, wailing and gnashing of teeth but rather a celebration of dad’s life and what he contributed. Goodness knows I’ve gone to funerals in the past and the focus, rather than being on what the person did, the whole day defines the persons life based on their death rather than what the person did when they were alive. The celebration of dad’s life through more formal tributes at the mass and the more informal banter at the wake has done a lot to help the grieving process – it is what dad would have wanted as well.

As a deist ( link ) I don’t subscribe to the beliefs of my father but I can take appreciation in the tradition and ceremony of the Catholic church service that took place – the ritual provided a therapeutic way in which the grieving process can be expressed through to give it meaning rather than there being a cavernous void of emptiness that is left when someone passes away. I’m looking forward to getting back to work and getting back on track – it is important to grieve but it is also important to get back on track and focus on the future.

Gradually getting there: Could be worse

Funeral for my dad is tomorrow (Thursday) – the formal closing of one chapter but the beginning of a new one. All of the family will be there with the formal funeral being a celebration of dad’s life and then the wake afterwards where more informal speeches can be made by friends and family remembering stories of when he was at Duntroon etc. Although there will be a lot of crying by those who attend I have to admit myself I’m all cried out and have moved onto to accepting the reality of what has transpired. Having seen dad go through what he had to during the treatment, the spreading of the cancer to his lungs and the pain he was in the final days it was heart breaking to see someone whose stature dominated your presence to be a shadow of his former self.

Oh a more brighter note I’ve moved my ‘Cloud Service’. from iCloud to Google because of the increasingly unreliable nature of iCloud over the last several months – something that started out as a ‘once in a blue moon’ has become a regular event and to be honest for someone like me who utilises ‘the cloud’ for work I cannot afford not having a reliable email service or quirkiness when it comes to their service. Don’t get me wrong, I love using my Mac (iMac and MacBook Pro) but god knows it has been a war of ‘love’ and ‘hate’ between me and iCloud. Oh, and to wrap it all up I traded in my iPhone 6 for a HTC One M9 which was only marginally more – threw in a 128GB microsd card and synchronised my music via HTC Sync Manager although I have inquired about getting Syncmate at 50% off since I have an old version – connect it up using MTP and it works but the free version doesn’t allow one to sync but simply connect. I’ve ordered an Otterbox Defender which is a ruggedised case for the HTC One M9 – I’ll write a more extensive review in a few weeks after having some real world experience to show for it. Oh, and still waiting for Chorus/Spark to sort out the whole contacting Wilson Hurst to get the installation of fibre – hopefully get it installed in my office then maybe mount the router on the wall to get maximum coverage then use the power line networking for a good connection between the router and my Apple TV.

At least something is working well

In a week of shitty news at least there are two bright spots – Firstly I’m finally able to make the final payment on the interest free deal for my iPhone so my Spark account will finally be free of that debt, Secondly I’ve organised Spark to upgrade me from VDSL to UFB 200 (200Mbps download, 20Mbps upload) which will mean once it is installed all the improvements going forward are going to be centred around fibre and copper will be more or less on life support – I wouldn’t be surprised if some time in the future that Chorus will request that they phase out copper lines in favour of going pure fibre. I’m going to ring up Wilson Hurst, the contractors for Chorus (who do the installation) and I’ll see whether I’ve got all four letters line up so that I can hit the ground running straight off the bat so hopefully by the end of next month I’ll have fibre fully installed and sorted out. The big question is the installation location which I’m tempted to put in my office but equally if they can put it in the lounge room using the old power outlet of the old heater then it means I can run an ethernet cable from there to my router sitting on top of the the bookshelf then maybe I’ll get a power line adapter so that I can get a good stable connection to the router from my iMac. As for my existing VDSL router/modem combination – I’ll probably pass it along to my sister who is having issues with her own wireless in terms of getting good coverage so that’ll help her out as well given that the Huawei HG659b that comes with a Fibre 200 connection is a pretty good modem/router/gizmo.

Gradually coming to terms with what has happened

I’ve had a couple of days by myself to reflect on the information I’ve been given and slowly coming to terms with the new reality – I needed to have that time off from work to consolidate my thoughts and deal with the emotions or otherwise I think I might have broken down at work. It isn’t until one is faced with such a scenario in real life when honest questions regarding priorities are confronted particularly when I have my day off making a greater effort to spend time with my father given the limited that that is left. I’m going to work Friday, Saturday and Sunday because those are the days that are the most difficult to cover but next week I’ll see if I can have Monday and Tuesday off next week then work a four day week then hopefully everything will get back to normal again – well, as normal as things can get given the circumstances.

Dad has known since March that he has had at maximum 2 years under his belt but I think that given the circumstances he realised that the 2 years was optimistic and thus any time, any new day where he wakes up in the morning is seen as a blessing and cherished. For me it has come as a shock not only to hear about the 2 years but how quickly that 2 years has suddenly become a matter of months – I’m hoping and praying that dad can stay with us for as long as he can so that we can hopefully spend our last Christmas together.

Bad personal news regarding dad

I went into the hospital yesterday (Tuesday) for a meet with mum and my sister to sort out what is happening with dad and it appears that the cancer is a lot worse than we had been told. The cancer is rare, aggressive and spreading where he was told originally he had maybe 1-2 years to live he has now been told that it has been reduced to a few months – and that is being optimistic assuming that the fluid build up in the lungs can be addressed and the cancer progression can be slowed via moderate chemo therapy. Both my mum and sister cried, I fought back the tears and trying to be the strong male role in the family – I had a good cry when I got home but I’m trying to take on the leadership required to help mum and my sister get through this time.

At the moment it just doesn’t feel real because the news is so shocking – I keep hoping that something will happen, that through some miracle he is able to pull through and walk through the door all cured but having read through an email he sent to the local parish priest it all came crashing down on me then. Dad has always been there for me, the ability to stand back and look at the bigger picture and never getting hysterical about problems – a deep breath, sober analysis and acceptance of what has happened then looking at the possible solutions to the problem I was facing at the time. Having read through the email he sent, he has accepted that this is the end of journey for him on earth and a beginning of a new one – the time we have on earth is incredibly precious and we should cherish each day that we have. After reading it, I couldn’t even make it half way through – I broke down in tears, maybe the suddenly realisation where intellectually I had accepted what the situation is by my emotions hadn’t caught up yet.

I’m taking a few days off from work to get myself emotionally together then head back to work for the graveyard shift on Friday and Saturday along with end of week on Sunday. My brother is came around 20 minutes to midnight Tuesday – I’ll catch up with him later on today however from what I understand he hasn’t bough a return ticket so there is no ‘hard and fast’ time table that he is sticking too. I need to keep busy and focused or otherwise I’ll turn into a crying wreck and never get anything done. There is a time to morn but there is also a time to accept that those of us who are still alive to continue on living.

Greece defaulting is something that is hardly new

I had this emailed to me not too long ago regarding the whole Greece debt crisis issue:

I thought you might enjoy this…

As noted by Joshua Brown of thereformedbroker.com, the Greeks may have invented finance but they are spectacularly bad at managing their own financial affairs. In 6BC, for example, many Greek farmers were forced into slavery after defaulting on their debts, having used their personal freedom as collateral. The problem got so severe that the poet Solon was called in to fix the mess, which he did by devaluing the currency, forgiving debts, and buying citizens out of slavery.

Over 200 years later the Shrine at Delphi and its Temple of Delos had to take an 80% writedown on a loan to 13 city states after many of them failed to repay their debts. Indeed, the reputation of the Greek city states was so bad they refused to lend to each other, choosing instead to lend to wealthy citizens from the respective states, who were more reliable debtors.

Unfortunately this poor track record does not end in antiquity.

Since 1830 the country has defaulted on its debts five times. Indeed, the only two countries that have defaulted more often are Ecuador and Honduras. To quote Brown: “To a person with any historical awareness, being told that Greece is on the verge of a default is like hearing Dean Martin is on the verge of a martini”.

More recent Greek history is littered with financial irregularities and fudges, which allowed them entry into the Eurozone but set in motion the crisis that we see today. These include rampant tax evasion, currency manipulation, and misrepresentations of the true debt position in order to pay for the nation’s spendthrift ways.

A Greek default is inevitable and no bailout can prevent that. But so too is the next one after that, and the next one, and so on if history is anything to go by. But is it really anything to be that alarmed about? After all, it appears the Greeks are really good at it.

So it appears that ‘being bad with money’ isn’t the first nor the last time it’ll happen with Greece – maybe Germany should have just held firm and pushed Greece from the Euro rather than providing a bandaid for something that’ll come back in a couple of years time when the same crisis is revised again.

Boring is good and don’t re-invent the wheel unless you need to

Just reading through this article on Arstechnica ( link ) regarding the latest release of Mint Linux (which originally started as a fork of Ubuntu) and how the rest of the industry seems to be enamoured with making a desktop operating system look like a tablet one – basically a wall to wall Windows 8.1 (Windows 10 reverse that but it is still a mess) clusterfuck all because someone gets a brain fart thinking that ‘one size fits all’ is really going to work (even though almost every attempt in every industry to try and be ‘everything to every one’ ultimately results in no one being happy with the end result). The article goes on about how the Linux community went through their own ‘phase’ where Ubuntu developers along with GNOME developers saw fit to take it upon themselves to turn everything upside down because what worked was no longer cool so they felt the need to re-invent the wheel all the sake of being ‘hip’ and ‘at the fore front’ (insert MBA buzzwords as required).

I for one like the traditional desktop and I’ll hold onto it like an hold battle axe because it does the job even if it lacks the necessary buzz words to some how remain relevant to the new screen touching generation. There is still very much a vibrant desktop and laptop market – the upgrade cycle has been pushed out to 3-4 maybe 5 years in some cases but in the case of the Mac most end users have been on that long upgrade cycle for quite some time so whilst the rest of the industry has had to adapt to the new reality of a longer upgrade cycle, Apple was already there and their business model is based around that long upgrade cycle (hence as I’ve always said about the ‘race to the bottom’ coming back to bite the big PC vendors in the ass).

Apple years ago (before Steve Jobs died) had a presentation as to the folly of touch based interfaces on the desktop (see gorilla arm and as Steve Jobs put it, “looks great for demonstrations but horrible in the real world”) and the attempt by Microsoft with their ‘one size fits all’ universal applications that attempt to be everything to everyone but ultimately sucking in all the scenarios it tries to operate in. Where as Microsoft tried the ‘top to bottom all the same approach’ where as Apple has more success with harmonising the frameworks between iOS and OS X with the net result are applications that can share a common code core with the time spent on delivering a unique front end which caters for the specific requirements of each form factor.

Left the Reddit circle-jerk

I just go to the end of my tether when it came to Reddit with the circle jerking and the hive mentality of ‘anything that doesn’t follow the narrative needs to be down voted rather than engaging into a fruitful discussion pointing out where the original poster is wrong’, so what ends up happening? Discussions are watered down to the point that people post meaningless drivel or posts devoid content written in the ‘active voice’ meaning that you could almost interpret it in almost anyway you want and thus offend no one in the process. Why do people do that? because they want their opinions heard and considered but when there is the up/down vote moderation system those opinions that fall below the default threshold disappear entirely – a system that is routinely abused by those who aren’t interested in a discussion of differing opinions but rather a ‘one man crusade’ they believe they’re on to purge the universe of ‘deviant ideas’ that further the collective narrative. I’ll provide some examples:

1) The TPP is a contentious topic at the best of times but an individual (who appeared to know what he is talking about by providing links to specific cases and explanations with required legalese) explained the finer points of the non-governmental arbitration panel. He also went into explaining why examples used in the past in justification of being opposed to the TPP aren’t giving the full context of those specific issues in terms of what was really happening behind the scenes via political manoeuvring that helped out political donors. God forbid we have a rational discussion by a kind volunteer so his posts (which were in-depth and well researched) were voted down into oblivion and at the top – the usual crap about ‘Bernie is our only hope’ followed by some shitty puns, basically content that adds nothing to the discussion.

2) The New Zealand subreddit is one bit giant left wing circle jerk of angsty teenagers and students thinking that it is ‘edgy’ to concoct conspiracies about how John Key is conspiring with all his ‘rich mates’ to screw over ‘middle New Zealand’ by using his ‘charming personality’ as cover for his dastardly plan. At some point the circle jerk becomes a little too much and god forbid you say something like, “maybe that couple should have exercised some personal responsibility before deciding to have six kids” then along come the calvary from the knights of nitwittery to explain to me that obviously I must hate poor people or that I advocate for eugenics because apparently when you advocate personal responsibility you’re ‘literally Hitler’ in their minds. Keeping in mind that spending some money on condoms or picking them up free from the local community health then using them as to avoid having unplanned pregnancies is hardly what I’d consider onerous – I mean, it isn’t like giving up an addiction like smoking or drinking which has a combination of chemical and physiological dependencies where as simply putting on a condom before having sex and using lube should be as easy as taking a shower.

So in the end I just throw up my hands and just say, “fuck it, I don’t want to have to deal with a community of assholes” and decided to simply leave. I like being on a forum where there is a discussion; I post something then someone critiques what I write (what I actually write rather than making assumptions via textual gnosticism) then I reply critiquing their critique along with adding some new content that supports my initial statement. In other words the conversation requires that both sides actually read what is posted and not jump in half way through the chain of discussions whilst failing to read the prior posts where the issue has already been addressed.

Excited about the future yet disappointed

As the number of Windows 10 builds that are making their way to the web increase it is becoming clear that although things have improved somewhat the situation is just the same as it was with previous releases – good ideas that are half baked and half finished with promises by devotees that ‘it’ll be addressed later on’ in much the same way that a person under the spell of the cult of personality will claim that the great leader knows them personally and cares. The Settings application which is supposed to replace the Control Panel isn’t completed with no long term plans forth coming to give users the feeling that Microsoft has any intention to develop the Settings as anything more than a novel example of what you can do with WinRT but no real long term plan as a replacement for Control Panel or intact WinRT being a serious replacement for Win32 long term. Explorer.exe is another example of something that should have been replaced with a modern WinRT implementation but again we have the Win32 rickety GDI leak prone mess that is being hauled around with again no long term plan presented as to its inevitable replacement. The net result? Windows 10 is released and all the same old crap is still there and there is a lack of a road map mentioned by Microsoft and even when there are already replacements they still keep the old stuff around – why? if Music and Videos have replaced Media Player then why not get rid of it? why have yet another application that’ll cause confusion to the end user?

Then there is the middleware – they want to encourage third parties to jump on the WinRT bandwagon but where is there effort to get their own house in order such as a WinRT version of Skype, Visual Studio, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Visio, Project etc. One thing to note – moving to WinRT isn’t just about ticking a box, it also means high-dpi awareness so you don’t get the cluterfuck mess that exists with Windows 8.1 for example. There is also a mountain of ‘free stuff’ that developers get which help users such as auto-suspend, reduced memory foot print, lower CPU utilisation (including not waking up the CPU as much which helps battery life), system wide spell checking and auto-correct as well as sandboxing, security, portability between Windows 10 on the desktop, tablet and smartphone. In other words the movement to WinRT isn’t just about ‘Win32 is old and icky, we should all be on WinRT because it is new and modern’ but because of all the added benefits that as users we’ll benefit from when applications become 100% WinRT native.

I’ve mentioned the past that in an ideal world I’d love to see a complete re-write where you have a FreeBSD core (updated by removing GNU code, move over to Clang/LLVM, made 100% UNIX 2003 compliant) and have WinRT sitting on top along with a cleaned up DirectX etc. but even at this point I’d settle for the compromise of a cleaned up Windows. What do I mean by a cleaned up Windows?  strip off all the legacy crap from Windows, make WinRT natively sitting on top of a clean C++ library from the LLVM project and fix up the various subsystems etc. In other words, cleaning up without completely breaking and throwing things away. Unfortunately though i don’t see it happening so here we are with a half finished Windows 10 – and to think that the most Apple users have to bitch about these days is how the Music application isn’t very ‘Apple like’ and ‘unintuitive’.