Tuesday 31 July 2012

Now here's an interesting 'what if'.

Warning - nerdy computer content.

What if... Microsoft stopped thinking like, well, Microsoft, and started thinking like Apple?

There are a number of hints that's been happening for some time: the requirement coming that computers running windows will have to have similar hardware restrictions to those already present in Apple computers (UEFI) the restrictions of Windows on ARM based mobile devices and the desire to produce their own hardware like Surface and the ever closer linking of Microsoft to Nokia Phones.

It seems other people are thinking along similar lines although not exactly phrasing it quite so plainly.

To me, it looks like both Apple and Microsoft are losing their way a bit. Both are desperate to create and occupy the new mobile computing market, and Apple have done it very successfully so far. But they both seem to be forgetting that the real place of computing is still the desktop with a mouse/trackpad and keyboard (that includes all laptops) in their eagerness to cater for the touchscreen device. In some ways this has done some good, causing interfaces to be cleaned up a little, yet at the same time it has seemed a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, actively hampering desktop functionality in order to bridge touchpad and desktop interfaces. Surely it would be such a stretch of the imagination to see that desktop and touchpad interfaces could share visual cues and references, yet actually run on different frameworks?

But this raises another question too, which the linked article touches on.

Time was the only non-nerd friendly OSs were from either Microsoft or Apple. I had a friend in IT who ran OS2 Warp for a while, but Wil was a little unusual. However in the last couple of years many very viable open source alternatives have sprung up, much thanks though not entirely to the Ubuntu initiative, and now it's possible to download gratis an OS that will work every bit as well as Windows or OSX, in some cases without even much of a learning curve. For many users though, the limitation was that games were hit & miss - mostly miss - even if they could work under emulation software. However if Valve were to start porting their games to run native in Linux (whichever flavour, probably Ubuntu) then the last compelling reason everyone HAD to have windows would be removed.

So what if other OSs became viable for home computers?

Well, for one thing it would not change corporate computing, at least not for a long time, since there was both a financial and personnel investment in what ever systems were presently in use. At the moment many firms don't even plan to move from Windows XP and IE 6, let alone change to some new-fangled open source, incmpatible software that does everything differently. But in homes I could very much imagine teenage boys asking their parents if they could have a new higher-spec. computer without Windows (because it would be cheaper) and then run the paid for games on a (free, downloaded) OS that they had installed. One could imagine OSs being optimised for game play too, since Linux is mostly a hobbyist-driven way of computing, running games faster under lighter weight environments or even (as Mechwarrior II used to be) from a command line.

What would this do for Microsoft and Apple? Well Apple buyers would be little affected, because the Apple market isn't driven by cost or particularly game playing, and the majority of households don't use Apple devices for desktop computing. But I could see that Microsoft might well lose significant market share, increasingly so as they tried to build walls around their garden like Apple has. Their devices have always been masterpieces of poor design, even when they have been functionally excellent.  It will be interesting to see whether the role they played with Apple were reversed, and the 'fruity firm' have to come in and 'assist' them the way Microsoft did Apple a couple of decades ago.

Monday 30 July 2012

Well that was the the week, that was.

And how it flew past - 9 days since my last post.

One needs a sense of humour to be me, I suspect. My speaking last weekend was so well received, with favourable comments from lots of people. My speaking this weekend seemed to baffle most of those unfortunate enough to listen (talking about having been saved and will be saved, what salvation might look like with a new heaven and earth). Maybe it was just a little too ambitious. Maybe it was just a little too muddly.

Maybe I needed to get a bit smaller in my own eyes (said with a grin).

Lots of work on last week, lots of work also this week. I need to find a way of being paid for time I spend doing 'stuff' for other people, or at least a way to build it into their bills. I've started work with a new company, but there's a lot of communication needed as we develop a relationship and transfer knowledge and information, ethos etc between the various groups involved. Seems good so far though.

There are also some challenges coming up in the church to be negotiated through. We need to find a way of living in grace and freedom with each other and yet also providing reassurance and security that the fundamentals are being taken care of. There is some discussion to take place.

And once again I keep seeing the need for housegroups and places of direct connection and fellowship - I realised last night that even though we *don't do housegroups* as a church, housegroup-style meetings happen spontaneously when ever smaller groups of people gather, whether it's for prayer, bible study or whatever.

And finally some thoroughly boring tech-notes:

Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll upgrade the Macbook to SSD and probably also mountain Lion: it will likely be the last OS upgrade Apple will allow, since it's nearly 4 years old and past it's planned obsolescence date.

And I've finally got around to installing Microsoft Office under Wine on the Pear Linux PC - couldn't have been much easier, and I'm kicking myself for not having done it sooner. Just have to try installing the latest service packs now, to bring it up to date. IF this works OK then it could spell the end of OSX on the Macbook, except on a stored disc so that the machine can be sold later, or possibly dual boot. Experiments still to be done however, to see which OS is suitable as a replacement, particularly regarding wireless network adapter drivers, battery life and the 'superdrive' DVD drive Apple use.

And now - writing up and lab work.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Don't you just love emotions?

I've not been sleeping too much the last week or so: a combination of wanting to do stuff, thinking about things (waking up through the night) and the old body not really being happy about laying down flat.

This morning I finally got up at 6.30 after another uncomfy night, feeling bleary and a little headachy before heading off to men's group. Usually we do a study and discussion of some kind, but this morning we watched the film 'Courageous' - relatively low-cringe for a Christian film. However being what it is, it MUST show ups & downs, including the death of the key character's daughter in a car crash.

Coped well, right up to the point where he then starts thinking about his daughter growing up, using a dream sequence culminating with her in a wedding dress. That's great, lets twist the knife a bit too.

Managed to stay there, quietly, without thinking too many bad thoughts. Fortunately the film ran on for more than 2 hours, and I was able to escape before it quite completed; great because I didn't have to talk to anyone afterward. Chris sensed something was not OK when I got back in, and talking to her a little helped reduce the internal pressure. Now Mr. Ibuprofen and Mr. Paracetamol have reduced it a bit further and the headache is backing off.

Tomorrow I plan to talk about salvation, and how our choices now affect how we are being saved. The film was interesting, in that it showed characters who were quite distinctly 'being saved' and making good and bad choices. I am grateful to know and have walked with people who I can hold up in reality and say that they have made good choices and have demonstrated the evidence that they ARE being saved, despite not living in California, owning large homes and driving big shiny cars.

Headache backing off - I need to finish off the prep, including adding some 'family photos' to powerpoint for tomorrow.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Office 2013 preview

Available on El Reg for those who care.

I really like the new look - no mungy gradients, no pastel colours obscuring everything into a blur of grey. This looks like it's designed for work instead of trying to demonstrate how powerful ones graphics card is. For me, the epitome of a clean workspace is windows classic on XP, and the lack of messiness seems to be trying to recapture some of that. Not so keen on the way it wants to hook into everything in the cloud and social networks, nor the fact that it will probably create yet another proprietary document format, but that seems to be the price of using Microsoft stuff.

I wonder if there will be enough money in the corporate pot for a copy when it's released?

Wonder if it will run under WINE?

Sunday 15 July 2012

Jesus would have died for you

if you were the only person alive.

This is a concept I've heard on and off for a long time, but I can think of no basis in the bible to back it up. Both Chris and I see Jesus as going to the cross because of the glory set before Him (a complex set of ideas in a single phrase) rather than because He was 'thinking of me' to follow a recent idiom (I'm pretty sure He didn't think of me personally at all).

So friends out there in the blogosphere, do you agree with the idea of Jesus dying for you alone and specifically, or do you see Him doing it from obedience and because of what His death would do to creation? I'd love to hear why you believe what you do. Answers with too many long words may be mocked.


Ecclesiastes is a funny place to find God

If you could see how I read and where God speaks to me from, you might be surprised to see how much old testament I read and how little new, relatively. The NT is densely packed with information, guidance, instruction and prophesy, requiring detailed, careful investigation on an almost word-by-word basis. The OT however is like broad brush-strokes, painting a sky or a landscape, and giving room to breathe and read easily, even when the subject matter is not a light one.

So I read from chapter 8:
11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. 12 Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. 13 Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.
14 There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. 15 So I commend the enjoyment of life , because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun. 

I've long looked at Ecclesiastes as a book written by a Solomon who had fallen from grace and righteousness; a book of advice to his sons not to wander and a book of mourning for the human condition and all the privations that go with life in a middle-eastern culture. But Solomon had God's wisdom, and the gift of God is not easily taken away, so this morning I saw these verses in a different light.

Why would it be meaningless for the wicked to live long happy lives and the righteous to have short, painful times filled with struggle? There is a sense in which so many things that happen are not according to God's way of doing things that they are truly without meaning and value, as in the example here, and God, it seems, has set boundaries on Himself to allow us humans to bring wisdom, pleasure, happiness, pain, distress and cruelty according to our hearts desires. 

But at the same time His heart is for us to live in peace and happiness, enjoying all the good things He has made. So He commends the enjoyment of the life He has given, because in one sense there is nothing better for man to do than to eat, drink and be glad, taking delight in being a part of creation and enjoying the obvious blessings of God and the fruit of his work. 

We so often miss out this aspect of the Father's heart in the way we present things, wanting all the right boxes ticked and rules followed. Yet God IS a father, who loves to see his children happy, growing up, loving and living well instead of being twisted into phobic this, sexual that and generally giving everyone a bad time. 

I hope that's come out right.

Now, off to church in a mo and the greatest challenge of all today - what song to use for the kids at the start of the meeting.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Ever do something foolish?

No, me neither.

Today I pledged some money to a project to build some guitars. These are special because this should make John Backlund's designs available at less than stratospheric prices. I'll have to sell the Heritage Les Paul to do it IF the project goes ahead, but it's worth it.

Monday 9 July 2012

A little more wildlife from round the back

We had a visitor on Saturday morning.

And there have been the usual birds, including a juvenile woodpecker and a greenfinch or 2.

I notice all these picture are really mungy - excessive noise reduction (may not be obvious scaled down) badly bleached highlights, poor detail and iffy colours. And that's AFTER doing as much as I could to rescue them. They were taken with Chris's Panasonic TZ10 - it makes me wonder if somehow it's had the noise reduction, EV and other settings changed somehow, because these are anything but impressive. If not, then once again I'll be wishing for something with a decent size sensor and interchangeable lenses.

We were with our neighbours this weekend

Celebrating their wedding. Congrats Andy and Davina.

Friday 6 July 2012

Struck by a comment

made by a reviewer of the new Google Chromebox on El reg.

Google isn’t unique in moving the goalposts with the tried and trusted models. I’m still grappling with Mac OS X Lion’s quirks and, rather than bend to Apple’s current vision of doing things, I’m constantly looking to find workarounds so I can do routine tasks as quickly as before. Having an OS that nags you because it woke up after an upgrade and now thinks you’re stupid, is a tedious affair, but I digress. linky

Nice to know I'm not the only one who sees things this way. I'm still debating whether to ditch OSX and move in a different direction, or whether I'll be able to bear returning to Windows. Microsoft seem to have made such a mess of Windows that I really don't know, and am seriously considering a Linux build with Office running under Wine for work. My biggest misgiving is that Linux frequently doesn't connect well to things, and that printer drivers are clumsy and limited compared to the windows equivalent (something OSX also suffers from, since it uses CUPS too).

In all honesty a MBA is looking more likely, since the basic hardware is OK and the pricing is more than competitive with non-apple stuff right now.

While I'm talking about this, it seems that Apple has been taking back the OS market.

In 2004 there microsoft had an installed base of 56 machines compared to every apple device. The ratio is now 19:1 for conventional computers alone, and 2:1 if you include mobile computers like iDevices. Working against apple is the fact that in *many* cases if a household has one iDevice then it will have many - partly due to the interoperability of the walled garden, partly down to the wealthy fanboi effect. Working against microsoft is that much of the installed base is gently obsolescing, and there is a danger that it will be replaced by something else.

Microsoft has taken steps to try to protect its market share with the UEFI boot code requirement for hardware manufacturers (where PC hardware will only allow signed software to boot) to lock out 'free' OSs like linux etc. Not a real problem on PCs where there already know solutions, but supposedly a problem with ARM devices like most non-apple smartphones and tablets. There are people gathering with pitchforks and torches over this, except it's likely to be a non-event, concerned that they will be locked out of rooting their phone (running a different version of their preferred operating system from the standard one).

So it seems that evil microsoft has returned, but whether they can become dominant again remains to be seen. In some ways having the M$ monopoly was useful, in that EVERYONE knows the only form for a document to be universally presented was in office format (.pdf is pants because it's not readily editable) and all the other 'open' formats look different in every word processor & spreadsheet program.

Back to the original point, I wonder if anyone has though of designing an OS that tries to work with the user to give them optimal efficiency, instead of the user having to learn workarounds in order to be able to work with the OS?  That might be novel - remember your read about it here first!

Tuesday 3 July 2012

A cut above?

If anyone cares....

From memory, in 2006 I bought my present razor; a Braun CruZer (I know, it sounds like a gay bar) which has done excellent service ever since. A while before that I'd had a Remington with 3 cutting heads, that wore the original foils through in less than a year and the replacements in about the same time, plus repeatedly giving me razor burn marks all over my cheeks and throat AND the batteries were already failing. The Remington was replaced with a super-cheap Braun 4615, but that wasn't an efficient cutter and when the charger developed a fault I bought the CruZer.

Last week the foil on the CruZer failed, breaking away all along one side. Pretty good after 6 years, considering they have a design life of 18 months. A quick hunt found a number of shops had the replacements available, but I eventually chose Amazon, simply because postage was free and I already had an account (message there, web marketeers). The bits turned up today, prompting this post.

What to do in the intervening time?

Well, I'd not thrown that Braun 4615 away. The problem originally was that the charger would only trickle charge, taking several days to achieve enough power for a full shave. Now since the rest of the razor worked fine I just plugged it in and left it for a couple of weeks before putting it away - it's best to store rechargeable batteries full than empty and one never knows when something might be needed. So out it came. There was enough remaining in the cells to let the motor turn slowly, so back on charge it went, with the charger apparently now working fine. I got 5 days of shaving from that first recharge.

Will I revert to the Cruzer now? Certainly - it's a better shaver in many ways. Will I fully recharge the other and keep storing it? Definitely. It's NiCad powered, so full charging & discharging are required, but that can also mean long battery storage life, as demonstrated, it was so useful standing in that it would be foolish to just ditch it.

BTW the CruZer is still capable of 7 days of shaving on a single charge. Pretty good after 6 years of daily use.

Monday 2 July 2012

It feels like I should apologise

For the grumpy, grumbling tone of the blog at the moment. Mostly I try not to vocalise grumbles, but maybe this is a 'safe' place of self expression.

It may not help that Mr. Grumpy is still 'enjoying' his 6 week sports embargo while healing, and slept badly last night.

Is there any relief from beige and pastels?

Saturday I went browsing laptops with a view to – hopefully shortly – replace the aging macbook with something a little snappier, and possibly that I feel can be trusted more and work better for me. PC world would not be my natural first choice, but it was convenient and there’s a branch close by other shops that Chris was interested to see in Banbury.

Regular readers will know of my disaffection for Apple products and particularly OSX as a desktop environment for working. Now while I have fairly reasonable experience of different Linux desktops and spent many years working happily with Windows XP, I have had almost no hands on Vista and very little with W7, so I was hoping to catch up a little.

Worth clarifying that with XP, when setting up immediately after installing I would automatically set appearance to windows classic and likewise menu and toolbars, while turning off all the auto-hide functions. This is simple THE best work environment that I ever found. Everything is crisply laid out and accessible rapidly, text is sharp, icons are clear, all open windows are listed in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen and navigation is a breeze. It’s not perfect, but it is very good, and workflow is managed easily.

Does W7 have a ‘classic windows’ setting?

So I went browsing among the various laptops available. When did everything turn to beige and pastel mush? I’d noticed this a little bit with a W7 computer controlling a piece of kit last year, but didn’t really touch the windows desktop much because most work was does using the instrument interface (also an aesthetic tram-smash, but with the saving grace of being bold and clear). But here I found myself squinting at screens trying to see what was going on with all the swirly pastels and soft, indistinct colours. Restful, maybe, but it looks like the target market is somewhere between the Daily Mail and My Little Pony magazine.

They had some Macs in the store.

I wandered over and looked at the iMac with it’s unevenly lit 27” screen & £1400 price tag and shuddered a bit.

On the end I found an 11” Macbook Air. Tiny thing, glued to the counter top to prevent theft, and of course it couldn’t be used because it was locked out, requiring a store password to open it. A trainee assistant eventually came over, I explained why I was there and she went off to ask the manager for the passcode. I could see her waiting to speak to him while all the sales guys stood in a huddle chatting, keeping her on the edge of the circle. Eventually there was enough of a gap and back she came.

I have very mixed feelings.

Morally speaking, I’m pretty much at the point where boycotting Apple as a company seems ‘right’ ethically. But it’s not just that. The machine was driving a small screen, it had an SSD hard drive with a modern processor, and yet it was distinctly sluggish in the store. GarageBand (one of the few bits of software on there) took about 15sec to open, and the whole system seemed lacklustre. On the upside – and I never thought I’d say this – compared to windows systems I’d been viewing, the desktop seemed clear and crisp, with neat grey borders and (astonishment!) clear text.

Familiarity? Surely not that alone.

One of the interesting aspects of using Pear Linux is that Lion felt pretty familiar. I’d be interested to know who copied who between Gnome and Apple, but nevermind about that.

On the one hand I’d like to know how it is that Microsoft can hope to keep pushing out their muddy-looking-as-standard OS except that it is always run (sometimes badly, though less so these days) on cheap hardware, and where people can get away with spending £200 for a functional computer then I understand.

And on the other, I don’t want to buy my hardware from Apple again, but all the ‘competing’ windows machines don’t seem especially great (poor screens1366 X 768 on a premium 13" laptop - really?) and are frequently more expensive, probably as part of the attempt to get profitability and reasonable margins back into hardware again.

Sony have a 11” laptop with decent spec (E11) and good screen (for the size) on the way for £400, due in about a month, and I’ll try to get a look at that. I’m also tempted by a refurb 13.3” macbook air because the screen is 1440 X 900, with a view to installing windows and finally escaping OSX’s clutches, but not really happy about that for reasons described.

Or maybe I’ll just wait, prevaricate some more.

Does anyone know if Windows 7 has a ‘classic windows’ mode?