Four More Years of Half Assing Everything

We now have four more years of half assing everything. Seeing how I had plenty of time to ruminate on this topic sitting in the dark in the storm battered northeast, this has been rattling around in my head for quite a bit. Like many voters, I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Both candidates fit (and didn’t fit) my bias in wholly opposite but mostly related ways. There’s very few differences between Romney and Obama. The problem, I think, is that the average American voter just didn’t give a shit about either one. What pushed me to Romney wasn’t so much encouragement from him, but rather that I feel Obama does everything half assed. If he’s thinking more than a year out, I would be surprised. More on the point Obama frames everything in us-against-them, whereas Romney frames most of his stuff in “common sense math”. Obama and his base tend to turn me off with the divisiveness, so I expect this to be a lame duck four years. No-one is really interested in working across the aisle with a guy who says “Voting is the best revenge” instead of “we can compromise”. I was somewhat surprised at the election results, but it was narrow enough with each candidate getting 50%-ish of the vote that I think I probably am in tune with the majority of America. The problem which no-one is pointing out at the moment is that each candidate also received only 25%-ish of the possible votes. That means 50% of America simply doesn’t care. This is bad. That idea alone should really raise your hackles, that means 75% of America doesn’t want what the other guy is doing (or said he would do). If “your guy” won, it does not mean you’re in a majority. There is no mandate here.

What is the mandate for then? Since neither party has 2/3rds majority required to force things through, the mandate is for Obama to actually work across the aisle. If you’re someone who feels like he does this and does it well, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you’re someone who noticed nothing has been happening (judging from the blame game of “obstructionist Republicans”, “yes”), I expect at least two more years of lame ducking, if not an entire term of it.

Cries of the “culture war” being over and other such nonsense will be laughed off the blog.

Lets take a look at what we can expect:

Obamacare Raising Taxes – This went from being “interesting” to “WTF” when the Supreme Court decided the election for us. Romney stumped on Obamacare rather than other issues, but the elephant in the room was that Romney couldn’t implement Romneycare as he did in his home state because of the Supreme Court ruling that you can’t fine people for not buying something. The individual mandate we upheld as a tax penalty. Obama therefore did raise taxes on us, and Romney really couldn’t run against Obamacare aside of it being way too complicated.

Obamacare on employement – This is one of two places I wish it was repealed and didn’t get brought up in the debates. The IRS counts “part time” as 39 hours a week. Obamacare counts “part time” as 30 hours a week. Obviously this doesn’t quite add up nicely, so businesses are running split shifts now where people are being cut to 20 hours a week to make the scheduling line up nicely. One of my buddies commented that more businesses are hiring more people for less hours. This isn’t actually how that works. More businesses are hiring the same people to work the finite amount of hours. If there’s 40 hours worth of work to do something, and your business doesn’t want to pay the health insurance fees, you just cut those 40 hours a week in half. Really the net result here is that people who were comfortable with their earnings now have the headache of balancing split shift schedules for their two (or three) jobs who hardly give them any hours. The implementation in Obamacare sucks and could be solved by…

Obamacare single payer – This was never actually on the table, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have merit. If we had single payer (something I strongly object to if Medicare/Medicade services are any indication of how it works), then people working 60 hours a week at their now 20 hours a week jobs would have healthcare. This would have been an expansion of medicare/medicade but since Obama is some sort of egoistic toolbox he had to come up with a separate government body to administer this stuff. It just doesn’t make sense.

Obamacare on Gay Marriage – or just gay marriage in general. Obamacare still has strong gender typing in the language (“bride and groom” language). Obama is in a particularly weird position where he now has to run against his own legislation in order to legalize gay marriage if this is even on his bill. The terribly irony here is that Romney’s position of states-rights is actually whats happening for both legalizing marijuana and gay marriage. Again, this is a place where Romney might actually have done better making this a states-rights issue and repealing Obamacare versus having a guy in office who has to defend his own train wreck. I suspect Obama’s ego is way too huge to fix this. Romney’s own position on it was actually the most flexible – if we define “marriage” as “between a man and a woman” and “gay marriage” as “domestic partnership”, then we can simply amend Obamacare to include domestic partnership if Romney failed to repeal Obamacare. This is roughly how Joe Biden deals with abortion, which he is “100% opposed to” and the whole Catholic Social Doctrine comment.

(GM) Bailouts – GM is insolvent again. While it’s Just Wrong to bailout a company, this is what Bain Capitol was doing to a T. Instead of Chapter 11, they would loan the company money and be the co-signer. Either people like the bailout and then should accept Bain or people object to Bain and should see the bailout as a trap. As it stands, GM didn’t produce anything that anyone was interested in buying, so they’re insolvent again. Could there have been another way? Yes. Obama should have put import tariffs on cars and paid for the bailout with that while increasing competition. One of my coworkers I was discussing this with said that “But cars are made from all over!” Well that’s sort of the point. We’re not tariffing parts (people have to maintain their crapmobiles in this economy, after all), we’re tariffing where the cars are assembled. All the Japanese made Toyotas would become more expensive. All the American made Toyotas wouldn’t get hit with it. Either Toyota creates more jobs here by expanding it’s plant or it has to pay the price. GM’s bailout gets offset by the tariff until they catch up. Companies like Mitsubishi making their cars in Mexico pay the tariff on 100% of all their stuff. And what about GM making cars in Mexico? They probably should expand their local plant and make some jobs. It’s a win-win.

Four more years of half assed status quo. The upside is that with re-election, Obama can’t blame the last term’s policy.

Kiva is a bunch of predatory goatfuckers

It’s actually pretty rare that I call out a site for being totally deceptive for what it claims to be about but when I saw Kiva.org on Hacker News, I figured it was a good way to make some dime while helping out the world.

The premise of it is great – you lend someone money using the USD as principal leverage, they get money they need, they pay you back. Its even better when they point out that you’re helping out people who generally live in third world countries. Your $25 USD investment turns out to be several thousand dollars for their local economy. More on the point – you’re cutting out the middleman. If everyone complains that stuff is “sooooo cheap” in china, now you can lend the chinese money to buy cheap stuff and improve their lives. Seems great, right?

Well, people who are reading at home should realize something. It’s $25 to you. It’s what the guy needs to open a business because he needs several thousand in his local currency to do it. But this also means that he needs to repay several thousand of his local currency plus the interest rate and fees to pay back the loan. If their local economy is so bad in the first place, what’s the likelyhood of this being a good idea for them or even feasable?

The second problem is revealed in the model on the site – you don’t get back USD, you get back “kiva kredits” or somesuch. It’s not actually money. People are currently decrying paypal and microsoft for the evils of fiat currency, why would you rope someone having financial problems in the third world into it? It’s just silly. If you’re feeling like a nice person or trying to make up for the karmic debt of the holocaust, you can actually make the loan an donation. This absolves Kiva of actually having a real economy and your money is lent to someone at interest and just stops existing. It’s all the trappings of a payday loan but you can feel good doing it.

Another rub? There’s nothing that prevents this from becoming a payday loan. You can’t actually see the terms of the loan or contact the people accepting the loan to know if they’re paying 1.33% or 133% on the money. Most of these people are happy pictures of families who need money, but the fine print on some of them is that you’re lending money to money lending institutions in a for-profit format. Think about that for a moment, we’re passing regulatory fees and loan principals and such onto another institution to tack on their own fees and such to stick it to these corn farmers in post-apartheid Africa. There was a movie about it called “Tears of the Sun”. Bruce Willis died for such stupidity.

Finally the worst of the worst? The last line at the bottom of every page: “Kiva does not guarantee repayment nor do we offer a financial return on your loan.” (emphasis mine). Not only are they going to fuck people in Africa but you don’t even get a piece of it.

The Internet is a Cellphone

The last post I wrote was a lament that the internet-as-a-cellphone wasn’t being fully explored from a technological standpoint.

Today we have the opposite problem: The internet-as-a-cellphone is being legislated as a cultural standpoint. Specifically, Domain Seizure has become the tool of choice to shut down “infringing content”. What is this content? Movies, games, pirated apps, etc.

How did we get here?

The old mode of piracy required a fair bit of infrastructure. A person would typically mail some money though the snailmail and they would typically get a stack of CDs or floppies in return with cracked apps and games on them. Things plunked along this way for a good while as the popularity of usenet declined due to AOL and eventually things went viral to the point where IRC was the mode of distribution. The IRC bots evolved to the point where if the bot didn’t have the software you were interested in, groups had agreed to cross referencing to other bots. The decline of USENET and the rise of IRC corresponded roughly from RadioShack and Circuit City not selling software or parts anymore to advertising software being pre-loaded on the pirated applications.

The movies thing I don’t think anyone saw coming. VHS piracy was as simple as going to blockbuster and renting whatever you wanted for $1 and then going home and wiring up the VCRs. As media moved into the digital realm, it meandered back to mail order DVDs (or the guy on the street corner selling questionable copies in strange languages), CD-Video (popular in asia, never here), MPEG copies on IRC, and the unfortunately named DivX video codec. DIVX players attempted to stem the tide with their dial-up DVD service but I would guess most of them ended up cracked.

Let me digress for a second and point out we forget who or what came before. The chinese looking to circumvent the firewall could learn oodles from the old US piracy market. How many books fit on a DVD? Actual text, I’m talking about, not ebooks. How many cameras come with an SD card now? Who checks all these things versus how much electronic stuff moves in and out of china? The great firewall doesn’t currently censor email as I recall, what about a wget service or a newsnet service with UUENCODED files? This is how the US used to do it and people wrote special mail handlers to reassemble these files, it would work in china. Its how it used to work. I had a DXR2. I bought it after my alpha died with which I used to rip DVDs. Nostalgia.

Somewhere along the way someone figured out the space requirements even for compressed, pirated materials (movies, games) was somewhere around 4GB.  Things plodded along at the 4GB limit for a bit and the movie industry responded by packing “HD Content” into 9GB DVDs with double layers, and finally the whole weird push to blu-ray and HD-DVD came around and blu-ray won because Sony’s pockets are deep enough to pay for a loss leader like that.

Suddenly, things came full circle. TV stalled. Gimmicks for TVs haven’t impressed consumers much because who cares about 3D content if it’s not on demand. Movies suffer the same problem. The issue is the world simply got busier. No-one has a two hour chunk of time to go to the theatre anymore. We don’t even have time to take books off the shelf. Why should we? We read books on our laptops, then the laptop became a tablet, than the table became an ebook reader, then the ebook reader stopped existing and became software on a cellphone. We scaled up the cellphone screen to a tablet again, but these new tablets had enough bandwidth and CPU to do something interesting – they could surf the web, and they could watch video. How big is the new HD AVATAR? 1.2GB. How big is the new HD INCEPTION? 1.4GB. This for full, 1080p content. Samsung said as much with it’s cellphones with the screen, but more importantly the line-out to your actual TV.

This is the other side of the convergence that the new internet is a cellphone.

Now we look at Megaupload and GMAIL and such and 8GB is the norm. 8GB used to be just under what it took to store a DVD. Now 8GB is just enough to store 7 full movies. What’s important is that it’s the norm. It’s an artefact from a time when things were bigger and they could be bigger because we weren’t trying to consume content down small pipes. The movie companies know this but how could they legislate how much storage a particular user has? YouTube doesn’t even care. GMAIL? Why should they make it smaller? MegaUpload? 200MB, but how hard is it to keep a list of 5 URLs to unpack a RAR of a movie? Therein lies the problem. This is basically a bandwidth problem versus a content control problem. Since they (the MPAA/RIAA) can’t control the bandwidth they’ll try to control the content. What’s the best way to do that? Take away their cellphone. One man’s ZIP is another man’s video-codec, what’s the difference between cat and zcat? Compression, but they work the same way. The MPAA/RIAA already subscribes to this new model where the internet is a cellphone, and so everyone crying FREE SPEECH over the whole seizure of URLs doesn’t get it.Taking away a sites URL is like taking away their cellphone. It doesn’t impinge on their free speech, it just takes away the radio tower. Get another cellphone, learn the IPs. Your OS has a hosts file for a reason. It’s no biggie.

Just for reference: I do believe the megaupload files were seized improperly. I think everyone who was using it as a legitimate document repository should sue. I just don’t think the URL seizure is illegal nor amoral and reveals a profound misunderstanding of how the internet works.

PM Delivery Services Scam

This one in particular pissed me off. I have a fairly finely tuned bullshit filter from years of the IT trenches and this one got past me. I am expecting packages, one of them is late. I open my mailbox (snailmail) and I see what appears to be a postcard from a delivery service I’ve never heard of saying they’re holding one of my packages. Figuring it’s some quirk of amazon’s craptastic marketplace I do what anyone else would do and I call them.

I’m glad I used google voice, I’ll put it that way.

Their operators have a slick script where they have to “verify” the package number, they have to verify your name and address. The package “is a large box, is this what you were expecting?” Give them your information to confirm who you are and they change from being a package delivery service to telling you that the package is a free bottle of tide (8oz) if they could come by and test your water in your home and tell you about special offers.

I told the lady to stop right there.

I said this wasn’t why I called. “You are to erase my information, you will not call me again. You will put me on your do not contact list. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”

“So are you not interested in our offer?”

“Have I made myself perfectly clear about what you are to do? You have misrepresented yourself as a delivery company and nowhere on your mail does it state you are an advertising agency. You have lied to me and you are not to contact me.”

“Sir you called us.”

“I want to speak to your manager.”

She hung up the phone.

So now I’m going to post about it, I’m going to call the BBB and I’m going to file a complaint with the FTC. It’s illegal for a company to misrepresent themselves and nowhere does it state that this is an advertisement. I did end up calling back and getting put on the do not solicit list and the second operator was actually a nice guy.

The back of the advert has your address on it and what appears to be Barack Obama delivering your mail. The return address is “PM Delivery Services, 1676 Providence Blvd, Deltona, FL 32725”. The front has a yellow banner which says “IMPORTANT NOTICE” and then the text follows: “We have been trying to deliver and important package to your home. As always, we try to offer prompt and courteous service. Therefore, please contact our office during business hours @ 1-888-855-7522 and ask for delivery services. We will deliver your package promptly”. There is a tracking number in the bottom right. Pic:

 

Update…

This is actually the most read page on this blog, which amuses me endlessly because it means I’ve utterly failed to capture the interest of people for anything else I write about. That being said, people have been really good about posting the updates to these in the comments section, bravo to the readers! I never thought it would happen but… they actually sent me the new card. It’s not like it’s hard to figure out who I am given the name of the blog.

As others have pointed out, the new address is:

DMC Services

577 Deltona Blvd. #18

Deltona, FL 32725

 

The new “Tracking Number” is “AB-0827”. The card has a “presorted first class” stamp which is just hilarious that the company can’t be arsed to leave a note when it tries to deliver the completely nonexistent package.

The back reads the same with the phone number being 1-888-959-3866.

T-Mobile Confirms Froyo (Android 2.2) for Galaxy S on December 15th

You heard it here first folks. Complete transcript below:

You have been connected to ~Diane S.
~Diane S: Welcome to T-Mobile Chat service Josh. My name is Diane and for your reference my rep ID is 13-20532. First, please allow me one moment to review the information you have provided.
~Diane S: Hi there Josh, how are you today?
josh knarr: Doing fine
josh knarr: although overtaken by jealousy of my recently upgraded andoid buddies.
~Diane S: I can certainly help you today to see when the 2.2 upgrade for your phone will be coming out.
josh knarr: excellent.
~Diane S: Please allow me 3 minutes to research this for you.
josh knarr: sure.
~Diane S: There is a froyo 2.2 update coming out by Dec 15th, if this is compatible with your phone you will receive a message with regards to this.
josh knarr: It will be available to download immediately?
josh knarr: (immediately on the 15th, anyway?)
~Diane S: Unfortunately, this is all the information I have resources to, you will need to refer to google for this, as they are doing the upgrade.
josh knarr: OK
josh knarr: good enough.
josh knarr: thanks!
~Diane S: Is there anything else I can help you with today?
josh knarr: nope, I’ll look for frodo on the 15h. thanks.

 

Steve Jobs on Android

truly then has the android come into it’s own when Apple takes a note. Much in the same way Microsoft shot themselves in the foot with free press, Jobs really did the wrong thing by bringing attention to it.

Two points – The UI. I’m not worried about the UI. Microsoft phones have had a different UI for each release and it hasn’t stopped them. Blackberry too, for the most part, has had a new UI release for each phone, although they at least try to keep a standard look and feel for where things are even if the icons are different. Why then is the UI important? Its what people expect to see for making a phone stand out. You go into a cellphone store and they have running demo phones just so that you can mess with the UI. More on the point, the Google App Store doesn’t hurt anyone over the UI experience because the user will buy something they’re comfortable with UI wise while getting access to the app store. Apps which won’t run on your device (IE: 2.2 apps) don’t get presented. But this is an argument against Apple – who’s UI is absolutely the same for each device. It’s all their eggs in one basket – either you really like the UI and you’ll purchase a phone with that look and feel, or you hate the UI and you’ll shop elsewhere. My take on this argument is that it was a straw man from the beginning. Apple doesn’t let other companies do integration, so then when Jobs says “The user has to do the integration on android” – he’s being dishonest. The user can shop around for an android which fits their UI expectations – but if the user buys an apple phone and wants to change the UI, s/he really does have to do the UI integration. Incidentally the app “homeswitcher” in the market will let you do all that pesky UI integration with one click. This seems to be a popular talking point, enough that I felt a need to discuss it earlier.

The store(s) – I think the rant here was because Apple is afraid that developers will go for greener pastures, and while it was only Apple and Google competing, Apple only needed to sweeten the deal to keep developers in the apple store. There’s nothing to keep the existing developers on one platform or another. The Angry Birds guy is a good example of this – he’s well entrenched in the apple store and he’s probably made all the sales he’s ever going to make from that application. He’s got every reason to move despite less favorable terms elsewhere because he’s already hit market saturation unless there’s new users on the device. However with the apple ipad failing to offer up any new experience aside of being a “larger iphone” (and not that large at that), it’ll simply fail to entice people to purchase software again. There’s really no new users (unless people are somehow swayed by Jobs’s speech). What Apple is worried about is that new developers will see the competition from the other stores and the terms which are basically bidding wars and maybe they’ll get the next Killer App out on the android before it comes to the IOS platform. Not every indy developer is going to get titles like gameloft, who arguably don’t need the app store because they’re getting promotional tie-ins. However the new developers are going to look at the google store, the apple store, the samsung store, the verizon store and the at&t store and they’ll probably write off apple immediately. Why? Because they can code for one platform (android 2.1, android 2.2, etc) and pick which store is giving them the best terms at the moment. Is the verizon store likely to be open to t-mobile customers? Maybe. The Samsung store absolutely is open across carriers. If Verizon is serious about running a music/video/games store, they’ll make the verizon store app available in the marketplace.

Apple, at this point, is now going through the gentrification process. If I were Jobs, I would be looking for a new look and feel for IOS to inject some fresh life into the platform.

Ruminations on the Smart Phone

I’ve got a fairly large bone to pick with the smartphone as a device. I started out with an MDA 1 from HTC from TMobile running Windows Mobile 3 as my first “real” smartphone. I had a WinCE device previously but it wasn’t a phone. There’s an important distinction here – phones are different from tablets and pocket PCs and such because the task of being a phone has to have immediate preemption no matter what else the device might be doing. This makes any offering on any device consider the idea that the UI must be streamlined enough to be a phone first, and whatever else you want to do secondly. Anyway, this was back when there was enough standard issue C in a device my skills were at least relevant. Me and Tmobile got sort of buddy buddy over in their forums which, while plagued with spammers and me-toos, are fairly open in terms of what’s discussable. Nowadays things like rooting and whatnot come with big tags warning you it’ll void your warranty, but I think anyone who’s afraid of voiding their warranty or service plan is simply going to run over the phone with the car and claim it was an accident. Back then (2003-ish) it was really open to discussion and the company was simply fascinated with the idea that users might actually do something with the phone and not hardware engineers like HTC or “developers” like MS.

I never got into palm. Taking the paragraph above into consideration, maybe palm had the better idea. The phone does one thing at once and therefor when the phone comes up, it knows exactly who to kill to get resources. Every palm OS was different while Windows Mobile, while quirky, was mostly the same thing. Windows Mobile was Windows Mobile, Win CE was Win CE, and then Windows Mobile 5 came out and that was the breakpoint for an entirely new thing. I’m sure people will disagree with me. I felt the iphone wasn’t open enough. When I talk about open my specific rub for iphone development is the threading model. Mysteriously the iphone is limited to four threads per app. I’m not sure if they ever fixed this, but it’s just a bizarre requirement. I have a deep respect for anyone willing to play ball with Apple as a result. The idea is downright strange from a computing perspective and MS more recently did it with the desktop OS. I think it speaks volumes for what level of bullshit the users are willing to put up with and I think that the slow adoption of Windows 7 and the nonadoption of Vista speak volumes for the user experience towards a device. On a smartphone you might not notice the four threads requirement. On a table PC you probably will because the tablet never escaped the PC part of it’s name. On a desktop you will notice it entirely, which I think is why Apple is doing well and will continue to do well. The phone looks like the desktop, they run similar apps. The apple tablet runs the phone portion of the OS and apple users are more comfortable with the idea of a device rather than some shade of PC. Microsoft will always be microsoft and branded itself as a business company after the war with Lotus and therefor MS users expect MS products to be shades of a PC. This is why windows mobile 7 is going to flop. Is it technically astute? Yes. It fixes a lot of the issues Windows previous had getting smaller. Does it look like a business device? No. It looks like a Nokia product. Its not speaking to the MS Target Market. For the same reason Blackberry can’t rebrand itself (aside of the fact that BEX is garbage) as anything more than a business device, attempts by MS to be a non-business device probably aren’t going to fly. Your kids don’t give a shit about Microsoft, but they know the apple logo by heart.

This article cares to disagree. They think a reboot is what’s needed and they pick the bone that everything looks like an iphone. I personally don’t think that everything looks like the iphone, I think we’re stuck in the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers) UI if we realize it or not. Even if you dress something up with new colors or a cartoony look, we’re generally putting out icons in a grid, and we like it. The list UI is available on android, but it tends to fall by the wayside with every casual user I’ve talked to once they install their first application. Cellphones get lists. Smartphones get icons. Cellphones use keypad input. Smartphones have a keyboard. It’s only natural then that we go back to the XEROX PARC idea of icons in a grid. It’s not a MS thing, it’s not an apple thing, it’s not even a Linux thing, it goes all the way back to where we get the X in X-Windows from – XEROX’s UI. We haven’t come up with anything better. We’re sort of getting there, the new widget thing MS is doing with Windows Mobile is sort of cool, but it’s basically a question of “How do I put six windows on the screen and keep them readable”? That’s what the widgets are – they’re very small windows. It really makes me nostalgic for Window Maker. See the little widgets on the right? Each one of those is telling you something while still being about the same as the widgets on any of these smart phones. By the way, that screenshot is from 2001, back when the matrix was cool.

Has the UI changed? No.

We’re still using little postage stamp sized windows on a little envelope sized screen. We might tie into “big boy” services like office, but fundamentally people’s model of the smart phone is that it’s a small computer. The google phones do well because they avoid this idea, the apple phones do well because their users have already seen this on an iPod, and the MS Phones will fail utterly because the UI doesn’t scream “small computer”. MS’s zune is dead. The XBOX doesn’t really talk to anything without a total PITA setup process involving running back and forth between the XBOX and a computer connected to the web, and the whole thing is conspicuously missing a USB cable. Mac people don’t have problems sharing media or networking because it plugs in over USB. Connect the cable, get to work. MS still wants to run the network (not sure why) and that’s above the interest level of the average home user. Bits and pieces of the MS Empire may do well, but frankly the Windows Mobile 7 phone simply isn’t what people expect at this point out of a smart phone.

Where’s the innovation? “You’ve done an awful lot of complaining, Knarr, and very little fixing!”

Here’s the UI of the future, folks, you read it here first. The home screen is going to work on the entire idea that phones are now messaging devices. The last complex application here is going to be the webbrowser, simply because the web was built for PCs and people expect Frontierville on Facebook to look just like it does on their PC. The idea of a “mobile version” is just crap. People hate it. You fire up frontierville on your phone and you want to plant some damned corn, you don’t want to see “FACEBOOK LITE”. The UI of the future is going to be the home screen being the most immediate task. Got a message? The home screen will look like an envelope. You can flip through envelopes to see a series of contacts who messaged you like a rolodex, you click on it to open it and you can read the messages like sheafs of paper or, gasp, individual e-mails! Got a phone call coming in? I want to see the dialpad with the caller ID on it. Why? Because if you’re talking to your friends you’re not looking at the phone, but if it’s the bank calling and they want you to press 2 to speak to a mortgage rep, I hate having to fish around for the keypad. When someone’s calling or you’re calling someone, just display the caller ID until you pick up (or dismiss) and then bring up the dial pad. I hate displaying facebook statuses and crap like that, I’m holding the phone up to my face and talking to someone, not holding it out so I can read the screen. Have a list of applications? Take a queue from the cellphones (or MS) and have a Start menu or “applications menu” which lets you flip through categories. These are typically games, office, web, utilities and configuration. The icons thing, while quick, has got to go. However, I’ve always been a keyboard crusader, and I’ve always liked hotkeys. Why not make your cellphone UI have Hotkeys? You can either yell “start, apps, office, word” or you could use your finger to write S, A, O, W. It already does finger drawing recognition and there’s very little chance of butt dialing with this scheme. Contact lists can be the same way, write letters for Phonebook, Family, Parents, and then Frank, or dad. You get the point. We have this idea of small windows which do one thing, but then we overcomplicate the UI. While bitching about the icons thing for lack of innovation is the right idea, the problem is a problem of input and not presentation. Presentation isn’t going anywhere new until we get holograms, and even then it’ll probably be cubes and not squares. Input is always changing.

Innovate the input, then exploit the hell out of the new methods. The UI should follow the interaction with the phone, not dictate it.

Rooting the TMobile Vibrant (Samsung Galaxy S), and Complaints About the MyTouch

Some back story: My old phone was a Windows Mobile 4 device I upgraded to 5 with a pirated ROM. Nothing pisses me off more than a company (TMobile) saying they have to sell you a new phone when the original manufacturer (HTC) says the phone will work with Windows Mobile 5. Of course, it’s not about that. HTC makes the phone, and the carrier gets to load the OS, so simply because something can actually work doesn’t mean it will be pushed out by the carrier. In the Android’s case, they can and do push out updates to the OS on the phone if the manufacturer wants to certify it but they preserve the carriers restrictions. The model is fundamentally different in the fact that the carrier no longer does anything with the OS. Anyway, long story short the keyboard was shot and required heavy mashing to type, the stylus was long since gone and the screen had visible wear marks when turned off. The USB on the bottom was broken, and the phone required a daily reboot. The OS was crap to start with and even the stock ROM I flashed it with (plain vanilla WM5) was starting to do weird stuff and run slowly. The SD card port didn’t work reliably. The earpiece part of the handset died, and I fixed it by taking the phone apart and reseating all the hardware, then my kid bit the earpiece and killed that so everyone was on speakerphone. The final straw was it wouldn’t load my contacts or camera phone pics. Go on vacation, get a new phone!

I replaced it with a MyTouch 3G Slide. There’s a few problems with this. One, the phone is weirdly bulky. It feels like a last-gen device. Like my old phone. But two is the keyboard has a weirdly beveled keypad. The result is there’s a lot of space between each key, so it’s tough to type on unless you hit the key dead on. I found myself wishing for my old keyboard. I also found myself using the on screen keyboard or dictation mode a lot more. Since TMobile gives you a two week handshake to figure out if you want the phone or not, I quickly started using my wifes phone (Samsung Galaxy S) and realized not only is it faster, not only is the ROM more stock, but the on screen keyboard was big enough for my fingers. To add insult to injury, the 3G Touch isn’t a stock Android ROM. It’s got a custom lock screen, custom phone screen, custom keyboard, and you can’t do things like live backgrounds or change the font. The address book is a disaster also. It appears more organized at first until you realize that it’s hiding contacts automatically. The MyTouch also has almost zero application support since the hardware doesn’t look like anything else on the android phone market. That last one is really the killer, everyone has cool stuff out for the Samsung SGS-XXX line of phones, but the unique blend of hardware and ROM put the 3G Touch Myslide in left field far enough it’s got terrible support. I strongly advise against buying a 3G Touch. Concerned about the flash? Don’t be – the Samsung’s camera has a night mode which combined with anti-shake being enabled takes perfectly good photos.

The first question anyone asks is “Why root a phone?”

Two reasons: Get rid of the Cats Fucking movie (AVATAR) and generally clean up the phone – diary, fastwriter, gogo in flight interweb, telenav (why you would put a pay-to-play GPS app on a google phone is beyond me), etc – and secondly to also re-enable tethering. T-Mobile has those wifi cards that put your laptop on a 3G network, but Android has native tethering they saw fit to remove. What is tethering? It makes your phone into a wifi router things can connect to, and the gateway is whatever cellular data mode is available. T-Mobile obviously doesn’t want to give the unlimited data plan people (myself) this feature out of box so we’ll add yet another service to the plan. Generally crap like that pisses me off. If you check in the market, there’s tethering apps, but they work in ad-hoc mode and they run in userspace. The userspace is setup to be fully preemptable by the foreground application, so your background app (which needs to provide not only TCP support but also caching since the speed is so damned slow) is going to not work well, at all. The tethering is a default in the stock android ROM so re-enabling it doesn’t hurt the phone at all. It was designed to do that.

The first thing anyone is going to try to do is remove icons from the desktop by using longclick and drag it to the trashcan. This doesn’t work for the pre-installed stuff. The AVATAR icon is particularly annoying since, if you’re like me, the first thing you did was dump the movie to your home computer and format the card for a free 2GB extra storage for videos and pictures. If you’re a Linux box, you can mount both the 16GB internal drive and the 2GB SD card at once, windows users will have to play with “debugging over USB” to see both of these. (Don’t ask me how, I use Linux). The AVATAR icon will persist even with AVATAR not there, so now you’ve got that stupid blue cat on your desktop and it does nothing. There’s nothing to click on in manage applications under settings so you can’t get rid of the broken icon. WHAT NOW?

An important note: Any discussion about rooting the phone further in this post applies to the Samsung Vibrant (Samsung Galaxy S). You can hunt around the links for your particular phone if you’re interested in doing this but don’t put Vibrant stuff on your particular phone unless it’s a vibrant. Theres pre-compiled binaries here and they may or may not work on your phone. Do your homework, you’ve been warned. These links are good for Android 2.1.

The first link is pretty easy to follow. Download the zip, name the zip with the special name, reboot while holding down the “system factory reset” (which is really just pressing ESC or backspace at the GRUB screen for you linux people), and apply the update. These are all zip files, so you can open them and ensure there’s nothing you don’t want in there. In the case of the SGH-959 rootkit, it’s three precompiled binaries and precious little else. After applying this it does take a while to unpack it, so don’t flip out when it spends a good minute on the “S” screen. Remember, everything is JIT on this phone. The first time you run it, it takes forever. When you update the system, not only is it precompiled binaries and JIT code, but you can’t get to the system until it lays it out. Resist the urge to pull the battery. Also once Android 2.2 gets pushed out, this won’t work. I would defer that update until you get another rootkit. I have an RFC out to google and the development community asking if these are statically linked or not. If they’re statically linked, they will survive the Android 2.2 update. If they’re not, expect to have these quietly uninstalled or simply not work.

Now that you’ve got it, click on the superuser ninja and set it to always prompt you for superuser. Remember, while it seems like you’re adding functionality, this comes at the cost of security. You must protect root access from applications. If it seems like the app shouldn’t be asking for it, you don’t let the app run as superuser.

Now that you’ve got a rooted phone, you want a snapshot. Hop into the Market (if you don’t have a market icon, you’re using the phone before it’s fully unpacked), and look for ROM MANAGER by ClockworkMod. Install it. There’s a free version and a paid version. The paid version is fully insane and lets you run pretty much any Android build on your particular device. However, I just installed the free one because I’m just looking to make an image which has my goodies. The first backup will fail, don’t panic, just select “reboot phone” with the volume controls and hit power to reboot. Scroll down to “Manage and Restore backups” and select the one that failed, delete it. Notice on the first line that “Current Recovery” and “Last Recovery” should say ClockworkMod 2.5.0.4. Tell it “Backup Current ROM”. Give it a name like “Stock Rooted”. The phone will reboot and mess around for about 15 minutes. Now you’ve got a stock, rooted image you can restore to when/if Android 2.2 trashes your phone or you uninstall too much crap.

Now you want the wireless tether. Download the ZIP and put it on the root of your phones storage (the 16GB one, not the 2GB one). Hop back into ROM Recovery (clockwork) and click “reboot into recovery”. You’ll see the GRUB screen fly by and you’ll end up in the “menu + log” screen in clockwork. Note that they make flashing here a PITA so you don’t accidentally flash your phone by butt-dialing. Use volume up and down to select “install ZIP from SD card” (this is misleading because it’s the phones internal SD, nonremovable). Click POWER. Click CHOOSE ZIP. Select the ZIP. You’ll get to a screen that says something like “Do you want to do this” with about 20 NO options and one YES. Select YES. It’ll chug a bit and return you to the menu. The bottom of the screen should have the log text indicating a success. Menu out to the main screen and choose “reboot phone”. Again, wait 10 minutes while the phone gets raped by dickwolves or whatever it’s doing and it’ll come up. Don’t pull the battery. Under Settings, Wireless, you now have Mobile AP which lets your phone act as a router. Things will connect to it as a wireless AP, and they get routed to the web over 3G. This is a proper AP, it’s not ad-hoc, which means you can actually secure it. Ad hoc means you’re providing wireless services to anyone in wifi range.

Now you can delete the old backup and make a new one, or not.

To clean out the crap we’re going to install Titanium Backup. It will download and ask for root rights. You want to let it apply them and choose “remember”, the program will not function with it. The very first thing you do is click Problems? and choose “Yes, Do It”. This puts busybox on your host, which is like a lightweight LSB system. The busybox that seems to come with a lot of the rootkits is POSIX busybox, not GNU busybox. If this means nothing to you, you probably don’t need a rooted phone. If you know your tar options, this will vex you endlessly until you get the Titanium Backup busybox. Just trust me, you want it. Now click BACKUP/RESTORE on the top middle button, and tada, all the apps. Scroll down to AVATAR (for instance), click on it, choose UN-INSTALL. Do not uninstall any input or google utilities, your phone will not work and it will barf errors. In case this happens, jump back into clockwork and restore the backup. You have now gotten the AVATAR icon off your desktop. However, applications and application data are two different things. If you hop into settings, applications, manage applications, you’ll see something like com.android.movie.avatar. It won’t have a pretty icon or a nice name, so it’ll be obvious. Click on it and uninstall it from here too.

This is a good place to take a final look at the MyTouch (slide and not slide) from TMobile. The phone sucks. The ROM is terrible. When you get it, the phone reboots endlessly applying updates so you can… use the update manager to update it. However it doesn’t tell you this is what it’s doing. It just reboots. Over and over and over again until there’s a popup saying “Oh, there’s an update to droid, would you like to waste a half hour downloading it and another 15 minutes applying it?” Now do that twice, since it comes with Android 2.0. Also lose all your settings because it’s a fresh reload. Oh, and expect to have to update all the apps too since you click on something and it’s 10 versions behind the market. There’s nothing redeeming about the stock phone. If you go into the applications menu to manage applications, not only does it not present you with all the preinstalled crap, not only can you not turn on the live wallpapers, tether or fix the address book but the applications don’t have pretty names. They’re all listed as com.android.google.maps and similar. It makes actually managing the device a real PITA. The fault lays entirely with T-Mobile.

At this point you should understand how rooting your phone works, and how to remove the crap. Enjoy your rooted device.

Chevy Volt: Too Little, Too Late

The real vindication that Obamas bailouts didn’t work comes today with the Chevy Volt getting a pricetag. I’m a car guy, I like American built cars, I even went out of my way to try to buy 4-vin (assembled in America) Toyotas. This kind of crap breaks my evil little heart.

Obama “saved” GM, and for that they designed a hybrid who’s main selling point is that it plugs into the wall.

What’s it cost?

Fully twice as much as a Prius. The Volt base edition costs almost $42,000 USD. How much does the base Prius cost? $23,000 USD. It doesn’t even have the cool stuff the high end prius does. No sunroof, no LED lights which will never burn out, no rabbits VS barrels display, no auto tinting windows or solar panel on the roof and spoiler. In short it’s grossly overpriced for what market it’s slotted for.

My take is he bailed out mediocrity and our reward is further mediocrity.

If Chevy had put out a Caddy for this price, people probably would have bought it, especially since both Chevy and Ford are marketing their luxury brands as being “sporty” and “high tech”. It would have competed well against the Toyota Prius. Sure, Lexus has luxury hybrids, but when you think Prius you think soccer mom. Chevy should have released their hybrid under the Cadillac badging. Not to do so, in my opinion, is a serious miss.

What’s the Leaf weigh in at? $32,000 (the tax credit for an “all electric” vehicle actually makes this $25,000 which puts it firmly in Prius turf). This makes it only $5k more expensive than the highest priced Prius, but it’s packed with features which meet or exceed those on the top end Prius making it a decent value for the money. It too has sunroofs, LED lighting, leather, rims, and solar panel options.

The range of the Leaf is 100 miles, which is also more than twice that of the Volt. Not having to lug a generator around really helps. There’s been some grousing that this may not be an accurate number but even if it really is half that, 50 miles is still more than most Americans commute to work daily. (I personally would end up 10 miles short). The other grousing is from the Tesla camp saying that the battery packs total lack of active thermal management will cause them to fail, the likelihood of this being an actual issue in my opinion is slim to none. It looks to me like it’s using the frame of the car as a heat sink, and this doesn’t strike me as a bad idea. I think it’s much more likely that Tesla is seeing someone come to market with more than two braincells to rub together and they’re bent that they didn’t think of all this stuff first.

My take on the entire situation: GM will die spectacularly by the next Presidency who isn’t going to put up with this horseshit anymore. The Volt is a nonstarter. From their ashes will be born a new GM who will do what GM does best – trucks. Nissan will corner the all electric market unless Ford does something surprising and quickly. Toyota will continue to keep a stranglehold on the hybrid market. The Prius will continue to suffer terribly for reliability on the used market, but this will be overshadowed by the incredibly competitive pricing in the new market.

How about the boneyard?

You can pick up a 2006 rebuildable for about $5000. But, knowing how expensive they are even when they’re wrecked, why would you want to?

Diesel is Wrong, Solar is Right for Backup Power

I’ve been on my emergency preparedness kick recently, and that includes power since the storms this last year have been a real pisser. Nothing like being without power for three days in the home you just bought.

I was previously looking at military surplus diesel generators. Aside of my friends stabbing me in the neck over and over again for me asking them to help me get it on and off the truck, I’m not too huge on the idea of having Yet Another Engine to take care of. On the other hand, that particular model is so popular that theres an entire MEP-004A forum dedicated to it. And, there’s the fact that I have 250 gallons of diesel sitting in a tank in my basement labeled “home heating oil – NOT APPROVED FOR ROAD USE”.

Now, assuming that the generator goes for the nominal price of $500 to $1000 (they’re getting really popular in the post-Katrina marketplace), maybe I could do better with something else. It’s not just buying the generator – it’s buying the generator, the engine rebuild kit (if required), the wiring, and doing the conversion. Military power is usually 208v rather than 120v or 240v because it’s easy to step up/down or DC to AC convert. The other side of the coin is moving parts are the enemy. Parts which don’t move tend to want to stay that way which is why I try to start the MR2 once a month or so in winter. (I’m probably being paranoid). I don’t want to deal with that in a generator. After mulling it over quite a bit I decided to investigate various things like water service powered sump pumps (dumb), power-from-phone/coax, etc. None of these seemed well thought out. Dumping more water in your yard for the sake of pumping out water from your well is stupid. If the power lines are down, phone and cable likely is too. It was tough getting away from the idea of a diesel generator or making my own nuclear reactor. While legal, your neighbors tend to frown upon it.

Finally after a bunch of surfing around on various industrial equipment liquidation sites there was another answer: solar. Solar panels, for whatever strange reason, are dirt freaking cheap. A solar battery charger might be $20. A solar panel alone, for $20 buys you a pretty big panel. So now we have ideas, the question is how does it compare to our diesel generator at 15KW and how expensive is it? There’s a few options. I tend to shy away from the battery chargers since they are rated to charge one battery. They’re cheaply built and they assume you’re also charging one battery. Putting it under load isn’t going to happen. On the other hand I could buy the end-of-the-world version. But as everyone knows if it costs $1800 online on your end of the world site you can build it for about 10% of the price.

Lets put that idea to the test. High end rectifier: $30 from Rat Shack. Low end inverter: $71 for 1.5KW.  Why a low end inverter? I want to use cheap batteries and I suspect the rectifier puts out fairly dirty power. Expect to replace this every few years if you’re using it intermittently but more on the point you might also want to buy a much bigger, nicer unit. So for $100 we’ve got the power path from the panel to the wall socket. How much are batteries? $20 a brick. Keep in mind battery acid is now a federally controlled substance and requires you sign for it, you can get it if you ask. So you can refurb those batteries if you’re not buying sealed cell. And finally how much is a fairly large solar cell? $500 new for a high end one, but since we’re buying junkyard batteries, $100 for a new, fairly nice one or $130 on ebay for enough of them to carpet the entire roof. Since the solar cells do eventually go bad, I tend to like the ebay solution of buying the rejects in bulk so I can simply replace them as the apple tree turns them into broken glass.

Now why does this system work better than the diesel? For one, I can charge the batteries off the existing grid (when it works). I can even charge them from a generator. I can charge them from a car. I can charge them from solar. I could probably even ride a bike connected to an alternator (another $20 junkyard part) and charge them. Car batteries grow on trees. In fact there’s 1.4 of them for every breathing American at the moment and they’re only going to get cheaper as Priuses start showing up in the junkyard. For two I can charge my MR2 and the lawnmower from the solar setup here. There’s no reason why you can’t just put jumper cables from the MR2 or the tractor to the batteries. For three, most of the parts are cheap or free once you buy into the rectifier and inverter. You’re looking at $200 for the whole setup, or $300 to make it nicer. If you want to go seriously high end you can spend $600 for a 6KW, 12KW peak 50A power inverter. I’m sure you can find it cheaper on ebay.

How much do you really need? The government guessdimates that you need 14.5KW a day in summertime (about 600W an hour). Doing the math you can see our low end inverter there (1.5KW sized for a reason) will run about 20 hours running full tilt assuming the batteries aren’t total crap and you have more than one. I used five of them for my math and the health of the battery is frankly a crapshoot.

Now, there’s a choice, and I’m hoping the more electrically inclined readers caught this. You could just unplug the fridge from the wall, plug it in here and forget about it. You could plug the oil burner in here and forget about it. It would probably work great for these two and it give you two more plugs for lamps. In fact that’s probably the safest way to do this. If you want to drive the house off it, you could use the incredibly dangerous male-to-male extension cord and plug it into the wall socket once you disconnect yourself from the grid. However this plan was never designed to run through the house wiring. If you do try it, you’re on your own and you’re strongly advised to buy the proper phase-matching circuits. These are spendy which is why they’re not represented here – I’m not trying to build a solar power plant. If you skip it and wire it directly anyway, you’ll blow a breaker if you’re lucky, if you’re unlucky you’ll set the wiring on fire, and if you’re REALLY unlucky you’ll be on the grid when the power comes back on and you’ll have phase mismatch and your power company will beat the living hell out of you if you live through the resulting explosion. Don’t do it. If you’re really interested, grid-tie starts at $1000.

Speaking of wiring: hows the wiring done? The batteries are dead simple and wired in parallel. You can’t possibly screw it up. You wire all the same poles together, put the charger on one side of the rail and the inverter on the other side of the rail keeping positive to positive and negative to negative and you win. You could stack a thousand batteries like this and you still win. The rub is on the solar panel side. You need, on a cloudy day, to generate a minimum of power to get the rectifier to turn on. On a sunny day this means you’ll be generating far too much power. Solar panels, therefor, are a game of wiring things in both series (to hit the minimum voltage) and parallel (to hit the minimum amps). The longer the parallel run, the more current it produces. The longer the serial run, the more volts it produces. The rectifier will turn on at a minimum of voltage and do it’s thing until you hit a maximal of voltage. In our case, that particular Sunforce product I linked to accepts up to 100 watts @ 7 amps by 12 volts. The voltage on solar panels is the game to play. Since that rectifier will only accept up to 12 volts, you wire the individual cells in series (postive-to-negative) until you hit 12 volts at sunrise. Once you’ve got a few of those, you wire the assembly in parallel (positive to positive) to the rectifier, trying not to exceed 7 amps. For whatever strange reason people seem to just make these huge strips of cells. The problem is that by doing this you waste any excess power you make – it gets converted to heat. Since we’re dealing with DC, we don’t need to worry about phase matching, but if you buy 10,000 individual cells like some of these idiots suggest, you’ll explode something in short order.

Oh, you could just skip all the solar stuff and charge the batteries from the wall socket. PECO price caps and all that.