20100305

Another forced Quicken upgrade

I have used Quicken to keep track of my finances for a very long time. A few years ago, my 2004 version of Quicken stopped working – sort of. It would not download information from my on-line accounts such as Discover. That was my first experience with Intuit’s new flawed business model of forcing the user to upgrade. I quickly tried a number of Quicken alternatives, but none of them either imported my Quicken data or supported all of my on-line accounts. Rather than buy the latest version, then 2008, I shopped around and found a vendor dumping his old stock of Quicken 2007 for $10. I vowed at that time never to be forced into an upgrade again.

Termination of services notice from Quicken

Termination of services notice from Quicken

Fast forward to early 2010. Quicken notifies me that my current version, 2007, will no longer work after late April. Again, they have decided that they need more money and have arbitrarily decided to stop routing my requests for transactions and account info to the on-line institutions I do business with. It is not like the program is broken. Intuit is simply deciding to extort money from me. However, this time it wont work. Anticipating this, I started looking for options back in December and found a couple of worthy candidates. I want to move all of this off of my lone remaining windows machine and onto my Mac, so I searched for Quicken replacements that worked on OS X. I found iBank and MoneyDance. At that time, the general consensus was that iBank had some support issues and that MoneyDance worked very well. Apparently the folks who created MoneyDance got sick of Quicken’s tactics as well and prominently state that they will never force you to upgrade. They have reasonable cost and licensing terms. What has changed in the last several years is the fact that most on-line institutions now support an open protocol to request and exchange financial data, OFX. All of the work that Quicken did years ago has now been opened up to anyone who wants to write this type of software.

So, I installed MoneyDance and gave it a try. The trial version is fully functional, but is limited to 1000 new transactions. I was able to import all of my Quicken data files and only one type of transaction posed any problem. It created a few duplicate transactions for a specific and rarely used type of transaction in my brokerage accounts and were easy to find and correct – simply delete one of the duplicates. So now that I’m being extorted again, I will be buying MoneyDance and leaving Quicken forever.

It is not like they were not warned either. Last fall I received a survey from Quicken. It was one designed to gauge my willingness to purchase different versions of Quicken (Basic, Deluxe, …) at different price points, with different features, or in combination with other Intuit software as a package deal. Near the very end, I was able to provide them with verbal feedback and basically told them that I did not expect my current version to be disabled by Intuit and coerced into upgrading. I told them that if that happened again, that I would switch to another product. After the survey was completed they did give me a $5 credit with Amazon.com which I could use any way I chose to – so the cost of my $10 Quicken 2007 was now down to $5.

So, I’m keeping my word and Intuit is losing another Quicken customer.  Not that it hurts them since they were not going to be getting anymore money out of me anyway. MoneyDance runs on many operating systems, not just OS X since it is a Java app. Now if we can only do the same thing to the computer operating systems and hardware manufacturers who periodically force us into a similar upgrade cycle.  The world really cannot afford to be so wasteful by effectively throwing away perfectly functional SW/HW simply because some company needs to boost their sales.

20100129

iPad = IveReconsidered

I just watched the iPad announcement video. I’m willing to give new ideas a fair hearing and have come to realize that the iPad is not about the hardware as much as it is about the software and the experience. I do not know what I’m going to do, but I think I am beginning to understand what the revolutionary aspects of this device are. My expectation was that that this was going to be a tablet PC. I was wrong. Instead it is something completely different.

The iPad does not need to be a Netbook or Tablet PC.  Those things run traditional software to do traditional things.  The iPad really is completely different.  I do not need an SDHC slot or a bunch of USB connectivity.  Widescreen would still be nice, but most work apps look just fine with 4:3 formatting.  I do not know of a 16:9 projector I can use at work!  The early adopters are going to show the rest of the world just what the magic of this device really is.

20100128

iPad = iFail

I’ll be brief. I expected a lot more from Apple. This iPad thing needed to have a real USB port, A real SDHC slot, Multitasking, and something other than AT&T for connectivity. I do not care about flash – the way it is deployed on the web, it is basically evil (HTML5 had potential, but was neutered in committee). If the iPad is hacked, I may buy one, but as it is it should have been named the iMad (Ed Mauldin), the iDisappoint (multiple sources), or the imNotSureIWantOne (JMZ).

iCanWaitUntilTheyGetItRight.

20091223

Finally switched to Windows 7

I know I’m late to the party, but I’m not a Windows fan boy and usually wait for some of the early bugs to get worked out and some real reviews to be written. Most everything I’ve read indicates that Windows 7 is much better than Vista and almost as good as XP. XP was without a doubt Micro$ofts best OS. Vista sucks wind and should never have been released  – I guess you still have to feed the shareholders something on a regular basis.

My target system is a Sager NP9850 “notebook”. I call it a notebook with some hesitation since it is a 12 pound transportable computer with an 18″ screen, 3 hard drives, and a battery lifetime of about an hour. I needed a fast windows computer for my image processing tasks and this was it. I ordered Vista 64-bit home premium with a Windows 7 upgrade coupon when I ordered the Sager. I installed Vista on the terabyte RAID and managed to get just about everything working. I had to work with a few vendors to get 64-bit versions of some of my astronomy software before I could retire my old Dell m500 laptop. My impression of Vista is that it was a slower, more poorly supported version of XP with a heaping handful of annoyances added just to prove to the windows users that Micro$oft has them all by the neck with nothing they can do about it. Certainly anything would be better than Vista.

So, I decided to wait until my year end vacation time to switch to 7. I really do hate to upgrade something that basically just works. I’ve found that upgrading almost always triggers an upgrade cycle somewhere else and the total end cost cannot be predicted in advance. It is not just MS products that do this. My switch to Snow Leopard ultimately cost me a scanner and a printer. The Windows 7 install went well, not very fast, but without a lot of baby sitting. It warned me that a few things might not work until their drivers were upgraded or software patched. One of those was my Intel wireless card which I use as my primary network connection. It turns out that everything worked anyway. After the install I did the obligatory first Windows Update followed by an update to the update. I went to the Sager site and downloaded all of the new drivers and installed them as well. All but one worked. I did notice one funny thing. I had FireFox on my Vista system. The windows 7 upgrade process, somehow failed to notice that FireFox was installed and it did not show up anywhere convenient. It was not found under the “All Programs” on the Start Menu. Hmm, what an odd oversight (certainly an intentional act on the part of MS).

Let’s talk about that Start Button. It is different, very different from what you have ever seen on a MS OS. Continuing the trend that MS started with Vista, you cannot change much of the way the Start menu works or how it looks. You can unpin what is there and pin programs and folders, but the folders you add are simple links – not expandable folders. There is no way to switch to a “Classic” Start Menu – although there are third party programs that add a second start button/menu as well as allow you to delete the original one. Naturally MS reorganized just about everything on the start menu. It took me a while to find the tools I was looking for. Along the way I did notice a few things that MS did indeed improve upon. Most of these fall in the category of system tools/administration/configuration. They made it very easy to control what things start at boot. While very nice, the price paid by all of the other senseless changes to the start menu is simply too high. I ended up constructing my own start menu tree for programs I use organized the way I want them to be and put it in the My Documents folder. At least there it is readily accessed and is a fully spring loaded hierarchical expanding tree – just like it is supposed to be.

I upgraded from a Vista install where I had switched everything I could over to a Classic appearance. That caused some other interesting problems. After installing 7 I had this Library folder on my desktop. I like a clean desktop and this folder was essentially a useless redundant way to access my Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. The problem was that I could not delete it. Oh joy! Fortunately Google really is your friend and a couple of deleted registry keys later it was gone. It seems to be a result of a sloppy installer script that was not thoroughly tested on real world system configurations. Apparently MS thinks we all love their GUI decisions and never deviate from the path they have chosen.

Windows 7 is the first version I’ve used that seems to play nice with other systems when it comes to networking – at least to a point. I easily joined my existing home network of Apple systems running Snow Leopard. It even found my time capsule I use for backups. Wow, impressive! MS finally realizes the value of diversity in the world. One of my first tasks was to move 100GB of AVIs from the Sager to the 2TB external drive on my primary Mac. I popped open two explorers and dragged a folder over (move not copy). It happily told me that the 33GB I had selected would take 20 hours to move! After the first 2.4GB AVI was copied it updated that estimate to 4 hours – OK that is better. It then informed me that there was a problem in copying the next large AVI. I hit try again several times to no avail and had to skip. It copied the next one just fine, but had the same problem on the one that followed. Moving files around on the network is one of the most fundamental processes you can think of. Why can’t MS make even this simple task robust? After several tries with the same result, I am now moving things over via USB thumb drives. Fortunately I have a 16GB stick.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on the other things I’ve found during my brief exposure to Windows 7. The trend of giving the user less and less control over their system continues. Change for change sake abounds with little practical gain in the end user experience. Windows 7 is certainly a step up from Vista – but anything would be. If I had drivers for all of the new hardware in the Sager, I’d switch to XP immediately.

20091121

TEDxNASA

I spent the day at TEDxNASA and wish to share a brief (3000+ word) summary of the presentations and my reaction to them. First I need to set the stage a little bit. NASA is a rare government agency that has the unique ability to capture the imagination of the public and influence the future – some might say that NASA has the ability/charter to create the future. A brief review of the history of NASA shows this expectation is justified. NASA has, arguably, been in a bit of a slump recently. Much of the cutting edge long-term research capability has been traded for near-term developmental work. The shift from exploring possibilities to executing certainty, from embracing risk to meeting schedule milestones, has reduced NASA’s ability to create a wondrous future. With new challenges facing the world – energy, climate change, asteroid impacts, … – each of which having no obvious implementable solution, NASA needs to restore and extend its past abilities to create and innovate. The TEDxNASA event was designed, IMHO, to shock the creative hearts and minds of NASA and its partners. I think it did a very good job at that. I came away unsettled and amazed by what these folks have imagined and accomplished. The message being if they can do that so can we. The TEDxNASA event was a series of talks (some live, some on video), performances, and periods of social interaction between the audience and the “cast”. What follows is my summary and reactions to each of the program elements in the order of occurrence.

The Langley Center Director, Lesa Roe, opened the “conference” with a brief set of remarks. This was a side of our director that I had not seen before. It is hard to put my finger on exactly what she said or, more likely, how she said it that gave me the impression that this is now a different Lesa Roe. Having worked on developing the center’s Creativity and Innovation plan, I can see that she is 100% behind this effort to regain/surpass past research capabilities and impact the world.

Sam Horn introduced herself as the Mistress of Ceremonies and discussed the program and how things were going to work throughout the day. She did an excellent job of keeping things moving along and on schedule. We rarely deviated from the published schedule by more than a few minutes. More on her later.

We then had a “What is TED” video. If you do not know about TED, go to TED.com and catch up on what you have been missing.

Dr. Paul Aravich was the first real presenter and what a great way to get things going. This guy has some energy! In just a few minutes, using real cadaver brains, skulls and spinal cords he shocked us all into the realization that essentially everything we are, the universe, is contained between our ears. What we are and can become is affected by how we treat ourselves. The last frontier to explore is right there in our heads. He talks quite passionately about mental illnesses and whether they were ultimately of physiological origin (as he believes). My main take away messages are that passion enhances communication and focuses the mind to excel. Second, that problems and their causes/solutions are inherently subjective – you interpret things based on your experiences. Others looking at the same thing will likely see different problems, causes, and solutions. Perspective is everything.

The next speaker was Gregg Fraley, a Creativity and Innovation Consultant. He presented us with a set of tools that prepares/allows us to be creative and help others be creative. Creating an environment, both internally and externally, is essential to maximizing the creative abilities present in everyone. Everyone is and can be creative. I’ve been exposed to a lot of Creativity training and tools for the individual (internal) and groups (external). Gregg Fraley’s talk reinforced what I have come to believe is important. It was a good, direct, and practical talk on tools that anyone could employ today to be more creative. Gregg is participating in a one day workshop at Langley on Monday. After talking to him later in the evening after the presentations concluded, I’m looking forward to the workshop.

Next we viewed a video by Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist. She talked about what it is like to have a stroke based on her own personal experience of having had a stroke in the left side of her brain. You should really view the video it is well worth the time. I have read quite a bit about the mind-body connections ever since high school. I’ve also read and tried many techniques for quieting the mind to detach from the ongoing mental noise. I never quite understood either the objective or methodology. Her talk brought it all together for me in a moment and I understand this now. I can’t yet do it, but I understand it. The objective is to attain the ultimate state of having surpressed the left verbal, time and space aware, and judgmental portion of the brain in order to just see things as they really are. This is extremely relevant for creativity since in such a state everything is possible, including experiencing things from any perspective. I think this presentation is in my top 3 from TEDxNASA.

Michael Stevens (piano) and Dave Ballou (trumpet) performed a jazz piece. I like jazz and this pushed beyond my envelope of comfort. Having tried to listen to the atonal Keith Jarrett years ago and failed, I found this performance fascinating. As I suspected and confirmed later by talking to Dave afterward, this was pretty much an impromptu jam session. I enjoyed the way the two traded the lead and built on what the other had just done. The piece developed in unpredictable ways as was very free form. What I took away from this was creativity is enhanced by trust in the team member’s abilities, freedom to explore, no fear of failure, and reinforcement/confirmation through adoption. Whatever one of these performers attempted, the other was able to accomplish and extend with a completely different tool/instrument. It was a pleasure to watch two accomplished people be in the moment of creation.

Author Nancy Vogl talked about her experiences relating to diversity. The talk also evolved into a discussion of how points of view are often (falsely) rooted in fear or group dynamics. View things/people/facts/events as they are not what you have been told to see.

The “Math Lady from Space”, Brenda Barrow, came out and demonstrated how having fun and exploring different perspectives can facilitate learning – in this case math for young students. Creativity requires constant learning and exposure to new experiences. Some of that includes looking at old things in new ways. I’ve often wondered how I would begin to communicate with an alien. I always start with math.

Renowned space-themed artist Pat Rawlings talked about how he creates his scenes depicting every day life in futuristic settings. The big take away for me was that creativity requires a problem to work on. He stated that if given total freedom he has a difficult time producing anything. He needs to have some constraints before he can release his creative abilities.

A simple solution to an important problem was the subject of the next video presentation, “How to stop disease spread through the reuse of syringes in the third world” by Marc Koska. Simple, design a syringe that has a break away plunger. I’m not convinced that would actually work, since I can think of at least two ways to circumvent the break away feature. Nevertheless, my take away was that big problems can often be broken down into smaller and simpler problems.

We were treated to some real innovative thinking by Dr. Dennis Hong of Virginia Tech. His robotics group has produced some amazing concepts, designs that most people would not have imagined. He talked about the importance of suspending judgment and encouraging fun. Letting people run with an idea and develop a passion for things is essential for creativity.

Break for lunch.

The second block began with an inspirational song by Jana Stanfield entitled “If I were Brave”. Listening closely to the words it was clear that this was about increasing abilities and accomplishments by releasing/overcoming your fears – whatever they may be. For me this meant fear of ridicule, or fear of failure.

Sam Horn talked about her concept of Serendestiny. An interesting concept that involves acting on a hunch to set destiny in motion. Doing things just a little bit differently, or going outside of your usual sphere of activities can be just the thing that starts something big. Interesting idea.

Radio Show Host John St.Augustine is my age and talked about his life-changing experience/memories of the first moon landing. Every time I see that video of Neil stepping onto the lunar surface, it gives me chills – a moment etched deeply into my existence. His point: we have already done unimaginably great things – Imagine, discuss, and then do.

Loretta Whitesides discussed her somewhat idealistic vision of how humanity can take the best of ourselves and spread it across the galaxy as we inevitably expand our presence beyond Earth. An interesting vision of the future many years from now. It is important that you have a deep belief in the importance of what you are working on, that it matters, and will make a difference.

We were originally scheduled to have a live video link to the International Space Station and Astronaut Leyland Melvin, but that fell through. Fortunately they had a back up plan. They showed a prerecorded video of Melvin that started off being narrated by a youngster (very early teens?), Tyler Cole. The content was more of the usual “Earth is one planet” theme and I was more impressed with the performance of Tyler Cole. He exhibited an unusual degree of comfort narrating in front of such a large audience.

A video of Dan Pink discussing the Science of Motivation made some initially surprising claims. As the model for business switches from producing things more efficiently to producing innovations, the old model of rewards as motivation apparently fails miserably. What makes a bigger impact on creativity and innovation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I guess I’ve known this all along, but never knew that I knew it. This talk is also in my top 3 for the day.

Innovation Consultant Steve Shapiro talked about the concept of open innovation. The basic premise here is that stealing a solution from someone else is still innovation. Sometimes the solution to your problem already exists. Someone else may have already solved a similar problem. You just need to be able to see the similarities and have the exposure/awareness to diverse fields. Bottom line: being the very best in a narrow field isn’t enough. You need to be broad (too). I agree with this 100%. There is no substitute for being aware of the world and all of its diversity. As William Gibson has said in various ways “The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.” This is very important to remember.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Anna McGowan is such a wonderful speaker. An engineer from Langley, she talked about the role of innovation in aviation and its ability to deliver “The World on Demand”. I agree with others who indicate that this may have been too big a topic for an 18 minute time slot. Creativity and innovation often arise in support of a compelling vision. Anna is a very engaging speaker with a vision.

A video, featuring Micheal Pritchard, used the problem of providing safe clean water to billions of people to illustrate that big problems can be made small by asking the right question. Providing potable water to everyone on the planet is a huge problem. The required production and distribution infrastructure is immense and unaffordable to many nations. So think small instead. The practical solution is to develop an inexpensive method that enables a single person to make their own potable water from any source as needed. Take away: turn those big intractable problems into little problems that you can solve.

The next segment was a slide show of the art of Chakaia Booker. Ms. Booker is a walking piece of art in her own right, but the slide show demonstrated what she sees when she looks at an old discarded rubber tire. She dissects and reassembles tires to create shapes and textures that are unexpected. The point: no one sees things the same way that you do.

Guitarist Mike Rayburn treated us to a little of his creativity. He started off by playing a guitar in a way I have never seen before. His motivational statement “what could I do with a guitar that has not been done in the past 500 years” really hit home. He then took us on a quick tour of other things he can do by simply asking what if. That question is very liberating, creatively speaking, and allows Mike to turn many common compositions into unique and delightful experiences (e.g. Led Zeppelin does Dr Seuss – Green Eggs & Ham set to Black Dog). This was very likely my top experience of the day. Just ask what if and see where the freedom takes you.

Break and a little mingling: talked to Dave Ballou for a while and watched a tiny robot play kickball with a human.

The final segment started with Dr. Sue Morter. Being a scientist and knowing a few things about electromagnetic radiation/fields and quantum mechanics, I found her underlying message of freeing ourselves from our own self created filters and restrictions overwhelmed by her careless abuse of physical analogies mingled free-form with new age concepts. At least I hope they were analogies from physics. I guess I was able to free myself from my own filters enough to see the underlying message, but it was tough. Perhaps that was the point – letting go of your point of view to experience that of others. Gutsy move including her in the program. I’m still uncomfortable after this one.

A video featuring Nandan Nilekani uses the history of India to demonstrate how ideas create the future. Interesting and informative, but I did not get much out of this one.

Dr. Joel Levine was up next and talked about the science enabled by flying aircraft on other planets. I know Joel very well since he works in the same directorate that I do at NASA Langley. This was perhaps his best presentation I have ever seen. He demonstrated how important questions (focus) and teamwork (trust) can result in innovations – in this case the Mars Airplane – that enable breakthroughs. He included two videos, the first an animation of how the Mars Airplane might be packaged and delivered to the Martian atmosphere, and a second showing actual footage from the deployment and transition to autonomous flight of a scale model being dropped from a balloon at 103,000′ altitude (the point in Earth’s atmosphere similar to the flight conditions at Mars) demonstrating that the concept works. This is the creativity and innovation process NASA-style. Joel managed to subdue his normal tendency for hyperbole to a great extent. Super stuff and it was a tough decision to make, but sorry you narrowly missed being in my top 3.

Back to back videos on inventions (the state between creation and innovation) the Liquid Filled Eyeglasses (Josh Silver’s example of how to turn a big problem into a small one) and Sixth Sense Technology (Pattie Maes’ example of asking what if) came next. Both are excellent examples of how a question or problem is needed to focus creativity to achieve practical results.

Jana Stanfield returned to the stage and sang another song this time accompanied by a sign language interpreter. They sang “I Wish You Strength”. I was engrossed in watching the signer “sing” the song. Seeing the singer and signer perform side by side was a Rosetta stone of perspective. Very unusual performance – definitely a new experience that put me into a different perspective.

Mitch Albom followed and discussed how streams of events (actually lives of two other people) crossed and impacted his own life. This one was a stretch for me. If I had to guess, the intent/message was “do the right thing” or a variation on reward comes in different forms. Perhaps I was just tired after a long day that seemed to go by very quickly.

The last performance was from a 13 year old singer, Jamia Nash (accompanying on piano was Michael Stevens). Before she sang, this young lady demonstrated a presence, thoughtfulness, and maturity of a much older person. She challenged the adults to renew the hopes and aspirations of a younger generation and to teach them how to become the next generation of leaders through example (Hint: the way we’re acting now ain’t cutting it). Holy cow! No pressure here. She then demonstrated her amazing voice by singing appropriately “What a Wonderful World.” She nailed it.

They then did a wrap with the usual thank you’s handed out to the group of dedicated volunteers. Idea to reality in 8 weeks! Well done folks, very well done.

The reception afterward was interesting. I played a game of chess to a gentleman’s draw (much to my relief) while standing and having a conversation. I spent quite a bit of time talking to Gregg Fraley. I had some wonderful bacon-wrapped scallops, and spicy chicken nuggets (real meat not glued together bits of “parts”), and a glass of white wine. I met a few other folks and speakers.

TEDxNASA was a great experiment. I think it succeeded at its intended purpose. I did not connect with everything, but I’m sure what missed me probably resonated with someone else in the audience. I do know that despite the conference subtitle “Space to Create”, a few “personalities” who earn a living out in the blogging world did not get it. Perhaps no one ever told them that NASA is about more than just “space exploration”. They need to understand that space exploration is only one of NASA’s current jobs, those jobs will certainly come and go, morphing into other, as yet, unimagined activities that NASA will likely create itself. The common thread for NASA is to dare to imagine and then create the future – for the betterment of everyone here on spaceship Earth.

20091025

Jailbreaking the iPod Touch

I Jailbroke my iPod Touch yesterday and wanted to pass along some observations of the rationale, process, and results. I’ve had my iPod Touch for a couple of months now. I waited quite some time for a 64GB version to come out since that was the capacity I needed. Otherwise I would have bought one of the early models long ago. While waiting for a 64GB model, I kept up to date on both the technology and the culture surrounding it. Jailbreaking is something I have watched mature into a simple 5 second process following a simple download.

For those not familiar with the term Jailbreak, it is a process that opens up the iPod Touch or iPhone and allows the user to install software from sources other than Apple’s iTunes Store. While there really is “an App for that” for just about anything you can think of there are certain things that Apple does not want you to do with YOUR iPod. My interests in Jailbreaking are an equal mix of curiosity, entitlement, and necessity. I wanted to experience the process of Jaibreaking and explore the innards of the iPod Touch OS. I wanted to do this because I could even though Apple probably did not want me to do so. I also needed to fix at least one problem I encountered with an App I bought (GeoDefense Swarm – a great game BTW).

Custom Background and Digital Battery Charge (Click for full size image)

Custom Background and Digital Battery Charge (Click for full size image)

A quick Google search reveals that the latest version of the OS (3.1.2) can be Jailbroken. A program called BlackRain, available for both OS X and Windows, is easily found, downloaded, and run. The actual Jailbreak takes about 5 seconds. After downloading the program, you plug in your iPod Touch or iPhone, upgrade to v3.1.2 of the OS if you have not already done so, shutdown iTunes, and run BlackRain. During the process, iTunes will probably try to convince you to restore the OS on your iPhone. If/when presented with what appears to be a requirement to Restore your Touch/iPhone – Do Not! Rerun BlackRain instead. Afterward, the device usually reboots on its own. If the device does not reboot, you will have to reboot it manually. Once you get to the point that the Touch reconnects to iTunes without iTunes requesting a restore, you are pretty much home free.

Custom Unlock Screen

Custom Unlock Screen

If all goes well after the device the reboots, you will have a new App on the SpringBoard called BlackRain. You need to run the BlackRain App once to select and install an App Loader, I chose Cydia. With Cydia you can search for, download, and install all sorts of Apps. I wanted to customize the look of my Touch, so I installed WinterBoard. With WinterBoard I was able to set a background for the SpringBoard, make the Status and Task bars transparent, and change some fonts. You can also download a Theme from a large set of user developed themes, or create your own. I like Pandora, but want to do other things while listening to a stream of music, so I installed Backgrounder. Backgrounder allows the user to switch a running program to run in background. It is essentially an App that lets you run multiple Apps simultaneously. Apple only allows a few of their Apps to run in background, mail, safari, and a few others. Memory is limited on these devices, so this is probably not a bad idea. Only one App can be in the foreground, so you certainly need a way to switch between running Apps. mQuickDo does that and more. It is also an useful App that speeds up access to your most frequently used programs. Using gestures, mQuickDo allows you to manage the running Apps as well as provide a way to access apps more easily. It even allows the user to put a short list of 5 Apps on the unlock screen so you can unlock the screen and go directly to one of your most frequently used Apps with a single tap.

GeoDefense Swarm Screenshot

GeoDefense Swarm Screenshot

I wanted to snoop around the device, so I installed Open SSH, changed the default password for root, and can now mount the iPod Touch filesystem on my Mac with MacFuse/MacFusion. I was most interested in trying to fix a “problem” with one of my Apps – GeoDefense Swarm (GDS). This is a great Tower Defense game. The only problem is that the author has decided to irreversibly link the game to Open Feint (OF). OF is a site that keeps track of your high scores for the various levels, shares that information with your friends, and a few other things. I had no idea what OF was when I first bought GDS and so I activated it. Since I really do not have any friends who play a lot of games and would be interested in this sort of social interaction, I have no use for OF. The problem is that once activated there is no way to turn it off. During the game it will try to connect to OF after completing each level or when you switch between Easy, Medium, & Hard. It breaks the flow of the game for me. The real problem for most folks is that if they are using an iPhone, GDS connecting to OF will cost them something each time. This is especially bad if you are out of the country where the cost of cell phone networking often is extremely expensive. Basically, the author needs to put an ON/OFF switch for OF in the game, but has yet to do so (and may never do so). In my attempts to fix the problem I deleted the App from the Touch and iTunes, bought it again (Apple is good about keeping track of what you have already purchased, so this did not actually cost me anything the second time), and reinstalled it. OF was still turned on and had all of my account info. I suspected that there was some cruft left over in the file system that deleting the App did not clean up. It turns out I was correct. Mounting the file system on my Mac and browsing around was enlightening. I found the GDS directory and a GDS-specific .plist file. I browsed that file with the Property List Editor and saw that most of the contents dealt with OF. I also saw that all of my level achievements and high scores were stored in separate files. So I deleted the .plist file and restarted the GDS game. The first screen I was presented with asked if I wanted to use Open Feint – just like when I originally purchased the game! They really try to cram this OF stuff down your throat and there is a little button at the bottom of the screen that allows you to decline the use of OF. Everything else in the game was just the way I left it. Problem Solved.

For me Jailbreaking gives me more control over those things (devices and apps) that I have purchased. Things I believe I have a right to control in more ways than the OS allows by default. Artificial limitations on my access to and use of something I own is intolerable to me. Those walls simply must be brought down. Jailbreaking my iPod Touch does just that.

20091004

Taxes and Votes

I’ll be brief. In response to this news article… If you do not pay taxes you should not be able to vote. PERIOD.

OK, I have chilled a bit since the original post. Everyone can vote for the House of Representatives, but only taxpayers, (current and retired) military, and a few other TBD contributory professions can vote for the Senate and President. I’m sorry it has come to this, but we are a hair’s breadth away from the majority non-taxpayers being able to vote themselves any benefit they choose at the expense of the tax-paying minority. That would be inherently unstable and result in the collapse of the system.

20090923

LED Lamps

Two styles of LED lamp

I’ve been searching for some LED lamps to test since I have been less than impressed by the very short lifetime of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). The CFLs do not last anywhere near the claimed 5,000, 8,000, or 10,000 hours. I think they might last that long if I turned them on and never turned them off, but that is not exactly my home lifestyle. So, I’ve been watching and waiting for some Suitable LED lamps to test. That day arrived when my wife said she was sick and tired of those CFLs in the kitchen that took 30+ seconds to get bright first thing in the morning. The problem was bad enough that I had switched one CFL back to an incandescent bulb months ago. When you want/need light you pretty much need it now. So I went to LEDtronics.com and bought a couple of R30 and PAR30 lamps.

I bought two completely different styles. One used five high power dimmable LEDs with a narrower 25 degree beam width and a 3000K color temperature. The other uses many lower power LEDs to produce a 5500K beam with a width of 40 degrees and could not to be used with a dimmer. I planned to use the latter in the kitchen where the distance between the lamp and the counter top was about 5′. The high power lamps are going in the ceiling of my family room 16′ above the floor. I selected the specific lamps based on their total lumen of output and their candle rating (includes the effect of varying beam width). My goal was to select a lamp that appeared to result in the same candle rating of the incandescent lamps I was replacing.

LED lamps are very intense, but not all that bright. These lamps in particular have clear lenses and produce a very direct light. The 40 degree spots did not work in the kitchen. We wanted a more diffuse light there. They do, however, work very well in the bedroom and the bath over the spa where they provide a delightful ambiance. Before I installed the high power spots in the ceiling fixtures I ran a quick test by putting them in a work light fixture. They produced a nice bright spot that was easily visible during the brightest part of the day on a wall 25′ away. I have since installed them and am very happy with the intensity of the light when I’m sitting at the computer underneath one of them and very pleased with way the light looks from across the room. It gives the room a completely different look. I’m planning to get two more for the other pair of corners in the family room.

I have to give these a thumbs up so long as they last their predicted lifetimes. The nature of the illumination is quite different from either incandescent or CFLs, so you should not expect that they will perform exactly the same way. In the right situation they perform better. In the wrong one, they can be worse. Given their current cost it will be an expensive experiment.

20090914

DeGlobalization

Here is another timely article on the state of the global economy. This time the subject is deglobalization. It is a good quick read that gets right to the point. Go ahead and read it first. If you still are skeptical about whether this is at all possible – read this too from today’s news (20090914).

Capitalism is broken, perhaps fatally (as is mindless consumerism), and the lack of sufficient quality jobs in the US runs the risk unrest. See my earlier post on the subject of jobs. Globalization has failed mostly due to the inability of the market to raise the standards of living of those countries supplying the workforce and thereby create new markets for US produced goods (exports and the related jobs at home). There are a few exceptions though free trade has, for the most part, made a just few people in those countries very rich. I am a proponent of some of the 11 pillars, but there are a few that (appear to) run too close to neo-socialism (I was going to use neo-communism, but that term has been usurped by the Right to hurl at the Left ever since the term Liberal has lost its impact). Hopefully, if we go this route, we will not end up like France – or worse.

I suspect that as climate change begins to disrupt water and food supplies, degloblization will rapidly take hold. International trade will become more strategic. China is already ahead of the game here as they have been buying up rights to strategic natural resources worldwide for some time now. Whether those rights can be enforced (peacefully) remains to be seen. One thing the article does not address is what deglobalization does to the huge, internationally-held US national debt. If ‘they’ cannot buy/import stuff (like food) and are not allowed to invest in the US, then the debt becomes worthless/uncollectable, the international currency/credit markets collapse (might not be a bad thing in the near-term with a return to something like the gold-standard). International trade will revert to a barter system (goods for goods – not a currency).

No matter how I look at this, the word ‘stability’ does not seem to apply. We need to replace the for profit motivation of the capitalists with something more sustainable (and perhaps even moral) for the post-capitalist system that will replace it.

20090904

Innovation, Jobs, and the Economic Future of the US

I’ve been wanting to write about the economy again, but just could not get my thoughts together when I had the time to write. A friend at work sent me a link to an excellent article that captured most of what I was thinking. You can find the article here at Business Week. The article missed one of my points though. Without innovation defining new products that drive exports, jobs, and investment in the US, the US will become the economic equivalent of an oil well. The rest of the world will maintain/grow the current trade imbalance and pump money out of the US until we run dry. Then they will abandon us and move on. Rather than legislating band-aids, like health insurance reform, the congress needs to be worried about the education of our people (not foreigners), and investing in long-term fundamental research. Growth, jobs, and economic stability will return eventually.

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