Lion of the Blogosphere

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

I broke down and paid for the NY Times

So I could read the liberal rag more easily on my iPhone and iPad using their app. Even though you can read it for free by using a private/incognito window in a web browser.

But… I took advantage of this special student offer.

Not a student you say? Well, their web page didn’t care, as long as I had a .edu email address, which I do, and I suspect most alumni also have one.

Also, it’s free for four weeks, so if I decide it’s not worth a dollar a week, I can always cancel before the billing starts.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 16, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Posted in News, Technology

Mobile phones and class

You have to be pretty stupid to think that they aren’t important class markers. And they are also very important status symbols for the bottom half of the population. That you can afford a $700 iPhone very clearly shows that you aren’t among the poorest of the poor. As you get wealthier, they say less. Obviously, if you are in the class where you are judging people by the cost of their summer homes in the Hamptons, then someone’s choice of a less expensive phone won’t be interpreted as an inability to afford a better one. But the choice of phone still does say something.

It’s pretty obvious that iPhones have more status than Android phones, and that “feature phones” (the euphemism for the dumb phones of the past) have the lowest status. There are lots of statistics out there which show that people who use iPhones are more likely to be college educated and have higher income. When I think of someone with higher income and a college education but who nevertheless uses an Android, I think of an Indian person working in the IT department. Most Indians are way too cheap to buy an iPhone when they can buy an Android with equivalent technical specs for so much less money.

I think that no matter what your social class, clinging to a feature phone gives off the vibe that you’re too stupid to figure out how to use a smartphone. Or if your income is in doubt, that you’re too poor or too cheap to get a better phone. My prole parents from Staten Island use feature phones. But I know wealthier people in the same age bracket as my parents who live in more affluent neighborhoods and use iPhones.

I’m not saying that any of this is how the world should be, I’m merely observing how it is.

If you think it doesn’t matter and that no one notices what kind of phone you are using, I would say that you are wrong. People notice your phone a lot, and they make judgments about you based on your phone. I even remember my former (female) boss mocking an employee (behind her back, of course) because she didn’t use smartphone.

In comments, some have put forth the theory that among the very highest class, things could be different. For example, it’s believed that among the highest class of people, it’s considered gauche to drive too expensive or too showy of a car. Commenters pushing this line of thinking have also proposed that having a smartphone means that you’re a corporate wage slave who’s required to always be checking his email and thus not your own man. (Although, remember, that among the bottom 98% of the population, having a job that’s important enough that you always have to check your email is considered a marker of high status and not of low status.)

But there’s just too much other stuff that a smartphone is good for to think that one could demonstrate higher social class by not having one. Upper class people could use their smartphones to check their stock portfolios and read the Wall Street Journal, which Paul Fussell would agree are upper class activities. Upper class people don’t like to waste time, and smartphones save you time with their more efficient voicemail retrieval and text messaging.

There’s a perception that iPhones are easier to use than Android (and having tried, in the past, to use both a Samsung Galaxy S3 and some Motorola Android phone, I share that perception of the iPhone being easier to use), and because the highest class of people wouldn’t want to waste their time learning how to use a more difficult phone, I predict that they would mostly be iPhone users.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 6, 2017 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Technology

iPhone cases

I don’t use one. They make the iPhone, one of the most sleek and beautifully designed artifacts of modern life, into a big ugly thing. I wish that Apple had made the iPhone 6 a little less slippery–indeed, the iPhone 5 was a lot easier to hold–but so far I haven’t dropped it in a way that damaged the phone.

But some annoying people give me a lot of flak for not using a protective case.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 3, 2017 at 8:17 pm

Posted in Technology

Web security reminder: block third-party cookies

Third-party cookies allow advertisers and other third parties who are up to no good to track what you are doing on the web. You don’t want that. In Google Chrome, go to Settings > Advanced > Privacy > Content settings and make sure that you check the box to “Block third-party cookies and site data.”

If cookies are so bad, why not block all of them? Well, if you want sites like Facebook or Twitter to remember you, then you need to keep cookies turned on, otherwise you will have to sign in every visit. That’s inconvenient, and you can always gain the privacy of browsing with only local data by using an “incognito window.”

If you select the option to “Block sites from setting any data,” then you won’t even be able to sign in because the site will forget you as soon as you go to another page. And it doesn’t provide any extra privacy, because the site could still track your session by your IP address. I definitely do not recommend this extreme setting.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 3, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Technology

ISP privacy

The Republican-controlled Congress reversing the Obama rules protecting ISP customer privacy is an example of Republicans reflexively and shamelessly bending over for big corporations using the simplistic formula: “big corporations=capitalism=free-market=good, government regulations=socialism=Marxism=bad.

ISPs have huge monopoly power and definitely should be regulated by the government so that they don’t abuse that power.

Yes, you are forced to deal with an ISP. In order to live a normal life in modern society, you need internet access, and most people don’t have a choice of more than two, and in many places only one. Until very recently, Spectrum (formerly TWC) was the only provider of high-speed internet in my apartment building.

Now more than ever, you should sign up for a VPN service like PIA and use it whenever you access a website that you wouldn’t want the FBI, the IRS, your significant other, your employer, or your mother to know about. But using a VPN has inconveniences. Many websites don’t work with VPN: they must be using third party security software that keeps track of known VPN IPs and rejects them, on the theory (no doubt true) that the vast majority of fraudsters are using a VPN.

Using a VPN requires technical acumen not possessed by the average ISP customer (at least that’s my experience with PIA). So the majority of people will not be able to hide their tracks from their ISP.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 30, 2017 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Technology

Free phone call with Google Voice and Google Hangouts

I just discovered that you can make free phone calls from your computer using Google Voice and Google Hangouts (of course you’ll need a headset or usb phone). Good to know!

It works best using the Chrome browser.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 27, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Posted in Technology

New Apple announcement

There is actually very little here.

There are two new overpriced “RED” versions of the iPhone 7 and 7+. Only difference is the color. Big deal.

The iPhone SE, the most affordable iPhone, is the same price but comes with twice as much storage as before, so 16GB is doubled to 32GB and 64GB is doubled to 128GB. This makes the iPhone SE even a better bargain than before, if you don’t mind a smaller phone.

The iPad Air 2 is replaced by a new iPad just called an iPad. It has an A9 processor instead of the A9X processor in the iPad Pro (but there’s only a very slight performance improvement with the A9X), but costing only $329 it’s a real bargain compared to the $599 list price for the iPad Pro (although I only paid $427.50 for my iPad Pro).

What do you get with the Pro that you don’t get with the iPad? Support for the pencil and keyboard, four speakers instead of only two, a better camera (as if you really are going to use an iPad as a camera), and a superior display with superior anti-reflective coating, but both models have the same pixel count. Also the pro is slightly thinner and lighter (0.96 pounds vs 1.03 pounds).

A very underwhelming announcement. The main takeaway is that Apple is making it’s entry-level iPad and iPhone less expensive than before while not changing anything about the more premium products.

* * *

Although the new iPad has a more advanced chip (A9 vs A8X) than the iPad Air 2 it’s replacing, it’s also thicker, heavier and loses the anti-reflective coating, so it’s actually a less deluxe cheaper inferior product.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 21, 2017 at 10:47 am

Posted in Technology

iOS v. Android

I don’t think I said anything about this in the previous smartphone posts, but I definitely prefer iOS, with the caveat that the last Android phone I used was a Samsung Galaxy S3, but I found the Android just a lot more confusing to use than iOS, plus there’s the fact that every Android manufacturer puts its own interface layer on top of the generic Android making Android even more confusing. I recently had the displeasure of fiddling with a new LG Android phone and I didn’t particularly find it intuitive to use.

As far as which environment you should learn how to program for, definitely iOS, because Androids have to be programmed in Java which is the worst possible language to use. Meanwhile, Apple has been working to improve Xcode even more. Two years ago they came out with a new programming language, Swift, which is said to be a lot easier to use than Objective C, the old programming language for iOS and OSX.

That’s why applications first come out for iPhone, because the creative white guys program for iOS and then they hire a bunch of Indian H-1B types to do the Java/Android conversion, or maybe just outsource the whole thing to India. That’s my impression anyway, I could be wrong about that.

But it’s a fact that iPhone apps are more profitable because iPhone owners have more disposable income so they buy more stuff. When I had access to the web analytics of the company I used to work for, I could verify that two thirds of our mobile sales came from iOS and only one third from Android. The result is that you get better apps for iOS because companies put more effort into the more profitable platform.

* * *

It’s kind of surprising that Trump uses an Android instead of an iPhone.

* * *

There was once a time when Apple products really rubbed me the wrong way. It’s something about the obnoxious glowing Apple logo combined with the smugness of people who use them.

I now have come around to appreciating the quality of Macbooks, but believe it or not, I still prefer Windows over OS X. OS X has a lot of weird annoyances, like the mouse movement just not working the right way and with no way to adjust it, plus the OS X interface often seems sluggish compared to Windows even though my Macbook Air has a Pentium i5 in it which is a pretty powerful chip. Plus you can’t really use a Mac to play games, at least not games with 3D graphics, because there’s no affordable Mac where you can add a graphics card. You have to spend at least $1800 on a Mac in order to get a discrete (but non-upgradeable) graphics processor instead of the GPU built into the Intel CPU. You can add a $110 NVidia GTX 1050 to any cheap PC that has a PCIe x16 expansion slot and it will outperform a $2000 iMac. Consequently, many game companies don’t even bother to port their games to Mac, because there are so few Macs out there with the ability to run modern games with 3D graphics.

Although good news for World of Warcraft fans, it has modest graphics requirements and will run on all of the current-model Macs! Nevertheless, you have a whole class of applications, games, that are available and run well on Windows but not on Mac, and there aren’t any programs I know of that you need a Mac for, with the exception of developing iOS and OS X applications using Xcode. Mac is often associated with creative software, but Photoshop runs just fine on Windows, as well as all other Adobe programs.

Of course, some might see the inability to play addictive time-wasting games as a benefit of Mac.

* * *

I’d say that the key reason why Mac became so popular during the last 10 years is because they came out with Macbook laptop computers that just blew away all Windows laptops as far as the perceived and actual quality. A Dell laptop feels like a cheap yet massively heavy hunk of plastic compared to the sleek, lightweight and all-metal-clad Macbook. And Apple was way ahead of all of the Windows laptop manufacturers as far as adding the latest technologies like high-res displays, SSD drives, and obtaining the longest battery life.

Mac desktops, on the other hand, have always been and remain extremely overpriced and non-upgradeable compared to Windows computers. And since you just keep a desktop in some out of the way place on your desk, or even beneath your desk, they aren’t useful status symbols the way laptop computers are. A big heavy tower of cheap plastic is perfectly acceptable for a desktop computer.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 7, 2017 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Technology

The value of smartphones

Jjbees writes:

Please write more about smartphones and how everyone is addicted to them and it destroys Civic culture and acts as a security blanket for adult discomfort with being in public.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve come to see the value of smartphones. So much time previously wasted doing nothing can now be spent reading the news, or even my blog comments.

I don’t recall that, before smartphones, being in public was any more civic than it is today. Ghetto youth using smartphones are far preferable to ghetto youth who are bored, so I suspect that smartphones are one of the reasons for why violent crime has decreased (although smartphones have led to a new class of nonviolent crime, smartphone theft).

I’d like to learn how to program iOS apps, but I think I’ve gotten too old to learn new programming languages. Every time I try to learn Xcode I just find it so boring, unlike when I was younger and I liked that stuff.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 7, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Technology

Moore’s Law thoughts

According to Wikipedia, Moore’s Law, which is an observation and not a natural law of physics, states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months. So when engineers from Intel, for example, say that Moore’s Law is still going strong, they mean that the number transistors on Intel’s most powerful chips continue to increase at that rate.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the consumer experience tended to parallel the increasing number of transistors on a chip. That is, chips with twice as many transistors led to personal computers with twice as much apparent computing power (in other words, they ran software twice as fast) for the same price or even less than computers 18 months older.

The year 2004 is a key year in the significant slowing of personal computer performance. That’s the year when clock speeds reached a plateau at which they have been stuck ever since. Up until 2004, smaller transistors allowed for faster clock speed which has a direct correlation with how many instructions the microprocessor can execute per second. But in 2004, the clock speeds reached a maximum such that any higher speeds caused the chips to overheat.

Modern computer chips have multiple cores. Two cores are now standard even in low-end computers, and more powerful personal computers have quad core chips. However, only specialized software can run on multiple cores at the same time. The vast majority most [commenters pointed out various examples of programs that can parallel process stuff] of tasks you do on your computer only use one core at a time, and there isn’t any practical benefit to putting more than four cores on a personal computer. So it’s impossible to make PCs run current software any faster in the future by making 8-core or 16-core chips.

It also seems to me that the rate of price decreases have significantly slowed in the recent past. No longer is the most current chip the same price or even less expensive than an 18-month-old chip with half as many transistors.

The end result is that between 2004 and 2012, the yearly increase in apparent computing power of personal computers slowed down a lot. It’s my observation that around 2012, the rate slowed down even more. It seems to me that it has been increasing at less than 10% per year since 2012, whereas during the 1980s and 1990s we got used to something like a 60% performance increase per year. (When you compound 60% per year, you get more than a 10,000 times performance increase in a 20 year period, which is what happened between 1980 and 2000.)

That explains why I’m still using a six-year-old computer. That explains why computer sales are in the doldrums, there’s no longer a huge benefit to upgrading.

* * *

It’s my advice that if you have a computer with an i3 or higher chip, you will get a much bigger apparent performance boost from updating your HDD to an SDD compared to buying a new computer with an HDD.

* * *

The apparent performance of iPads increased ten times between 2012 and 2016 based on my tests, which is a 78% increase per year. However, that’s going to come to an end, because iPad performance is always going to be slower than a desktop computer (given that the iPad has power and size constraints), and the current iPad Pro 9.7 is only 29% slower than a similarly priced desktop computer.

Apple has made a lot of money because consumers felt the need to upgrade their iPhones every two years, but I predict that’s coming to end because their iOS devices have caught up to desktop computers and will only become 10% more powerful per year going forward. (Maybe Apple’s secret weapon is that you can’t replace the lithium ion batteries which have a limited lifetime before they no longer hold a charge.)

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 2, 2017 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Technology

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