Category Archives: Tech

of phones and bluths

First things first: watch Arrested Development tonight. Season 3 starts at 8:00pm (also, Prison Break is on at 9 as part of Fox’s annual “get our asses kicked by Monday Night Football” New Show Grave-Lowering).
Second things second: my cell phone plan is expiring this month, which means I’m now in position to take advantage of all those free/slightly-cheaper-but-still-too-much-money phone discounts offered by everybody.

I’ve been using T-Mobile, and I’ve got to say that my experience with them has been pretty decent. My reception isn’t that great, but it’s better than I’d feared when I signed up with them. The pricing is as good as it gets. And I still pretty much love my phone.

So here’s what I’m thinking: my current phone will work on any GSM network (T-Mobile, Cingular, ummmm…) so I don’t want to switch to a CDMA network (Sprint, Verizon). But I also want a thinner, less-bulky phone for going out, traveling, small pockets, etcetera. Thus: I’m going to check out Cingular and T-Mobile’s offerings (phones and plans) and see if there’s anything that meets my needs–preferably something inexpensive.

This is the part of the post where I ask you about your phones. What I’m looking for is a phone that is very small and comfortable in a pocket of my jeans. Something like this or this or this.

For what it’s worth, the alternative is to keep my current plan on a month-to-month basis, keep my current phone all by itself, and be on the lookout for especially tempting deals or phones in coming months. Or to just buy a supercool unlocked gsm phone from a shady website.

Bloglines?

I’ve been using Sage for my RSS feeds, but now that I’m using more than one computer regularly I’ve had some trouble with keeping it in sync. There are a couple of options that I’ve tried, specifically Portable Firefox (you keep firefox on a USB key and use it on any PC) and bloglines (a web-based RSS reader), but neither has been totally satisfactory. Portable Firefox is a pain because I have to remember to carry around a USB key, and Bloglines (more info on Bloglines’s web services) is a pain because for whatever reason the feeds update much more slowly than Sage–I suppose it takes a while for changes to propagate within the system.
Recommendations?

Cross-posted from LJ

Okay, I will say this. When combined with Google Desktop, Google Talk is pretty cool. It just becomes a component of the Sidebar, meaning it doesn’t really add another client window to your crowded screen (Sidebar itself, of course, is an extremely obtrusive addition to your screen–but if you’re already using Sidebar, Talk makes for a minor addition to the chaos on your monitor). Although as of now that is completely theoretical, as I’ve yet to use the program to actually communicate with anyone (someone message me!).
In a week or two I will probably write up a better review of both Google Desktop and Google Talk, but in the mean time I will simply note (again) that I don’t really see any niche that Talk is filling and direct you to what I wrote about Konfabulator, which is Yahoo!’s preemptive response to Google Desktop’s sidebar.

Major caveat: there are those who believe Google is steadily increasing its deathgrip on the world and its private data–these new programs do nothing whatsoever to dissuade such people from donning their aluminum foil hats and anti-probe chastity belts.

Extremely related: A long and interesting discourse on this general subject as well as the future of computing by Jason Kottke.

Apple bans ‘Y: The Last Man’ creator’s new comic from Comixology over sexual content

Earlier today, Vaughan (best known for Y: The Last Man), issued a statement saying that Saga #12 would not be for sale through Comixology or any other third-party app on iOS. “As has hopefully been clear from the first page of our first issue, Saga is a series for the proverbial ‘mature reader,'” he wrote. “Unfortunately, because of two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex, Apple is banning tomorrow’s Saga #12 from being sold through any iOS apps. This is a drag, especially because our book has featured what I would consider much more graphic imagery in the past, but there you go.”

Wow, is this stupid. Click through for the bonus stupid: Apple’s still selling the same issue in its own iBookstore.

How to block ESPN Motion (that obnoxious video that automatically plays whenever you visit ESPN.com)*

  • First, you need to be using Firefox. Please, if you’re using a PC… just use Firefox. I’m willing to entertain arguments for Safari, but to be using Microsoft Internet Explorer at this point is just… wrong. Objectively wrong. Don’t do it.
  • Next, install the Adblock extension the Adblock Plus extension (which you should really be using anyway). Adblock, well, blocks ads online. It comes with a huge list of automatically-blocked ads, which is neat, but the great thing about it is that you can manually add other ads to the list. Like, I don’t know… the ESPN Motion video that starts whenever you visit ESPN.com.
  • Next (after you restart Firefox to activate the Adblock extension), click on “Tools” in the menu bar. Then click on “Add-ons.”
  • Highlight Adblock and click on the “Options” button.
  • In the “New Filter” box, enter this: http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/fpp/*
  • Click “Done.”

And that’s it. No more stupid videos advertising “Who’s Now” or WNBA broadcasts or Steven A. Smith’s newest show, “Spittin’ Mad With Steven A. (Brought to You by Cheetos)”. Enjoy.

* ESPN, you really need to find a way to turn this off by default. Everyone hates it. Most of us visit your site from work, you know? We can’t have this nonsense.

On Macs; and Futurama’s Return to Glory

When my iPod broke a few days ago, I went to the Apple store to get it replaced. While I was there, I checked out the hardware, and I gotta say–I don’t want any of it.
Let’s back up a little bit. First of all, I’ve used Windows/DOS PCs for essentially my entire computing life. I spent one summer working on a Mac (a year or two before OSX) and enjoyed it, for the most part, but up til now it’s safe to say that I’ve never been any more than an excellent candidate for Apple’s “Switch” campaign. But that’s just it, I really am an excellent candidate. I’m not a gamer, and I’m not committed to any Windows-only software. I use my computer to watch movies, listen to music, observe the internet, and write stuff.

Now, there’s no real reason why I can’t do all of these things just as well on a Mac, and generally speaking it seems probable that at least some of those tasks would work better. Some extremely interesting developments in the last year or so have made Macs a lot more appealing to me: 1) They switched to Intel processors, opening the door to better performance and to: 2) They made it easy to install Windows on a Mac, and 3) They seem to have decided to make music and video playing a major selling point for their hardware (introducing video playing on the iPod, a short-term solution that’ll be permanently solved by the inevitable videoPod or whatever they decide to call the widescreen pocket video player they release in the next year; bundling a remote with every computer they sell; getting ready to start vending movies through iTunes). OSX is extremely interesting to me, and seems like a great combination of a powerful, versatile, and stable infrastructure with a simple and intuitive user interface on top of it. Especially now that it’s effectively compatible with Windows, it’s easy to see the upside of switching from Microsoft’s platform to Apple’s.

So anyway, at some point I’m going to give an Apple computer a shot. But, even if I could afford it right now, there’d be no chance of my buying any of Apple’s current line. Why?

  • Expertise.
    Windows has a number of major weaknesses–it’s vulnerable to viruses; it’s prone to memory leaks; the OS and a lot of the software written for the OS are bloated and slow and filled with unnecessary functionality; the surfeit of hardware meant to be compatible with Windows means that installing almost any new device is an exercise in frustration; the system inexplicably crashes, relatively speaking, all the time–but I am extremely familiar with those weaknesses and, for the most part, know how to fix them when they come up. This is an idiotic reason not to switch–it boils down to, “I know how to deal with the myriad deficiencies of my Model-T, so I’m going to pass on that Civic”–but it’s a very real emotional hurdle that anyone who’s worked with Windows for their entire adulthood finds difficult to clear.
  • Choice
    If I want a Mac, I have very few options. Both in terms of the actual computer (two types of laptop, two or three types of desktop… enjoy the variety!) and the options offered with those computers (want a different video card with your Mac Mini? Too bad). Now, it’s plausible that, thanks to the switch to Intel-based hardware, sometime soon I’ll be able to swap the internals relatively easily. But if you think Apple is likely to increase your choice of computer (either by introducing a bunch of new computer models or licensing its OS to anyone else), you’ve got to see this sweet bridge I’m selling in New York.
  • Individuality
    Look, there was a time when buying a Mac meant you were smart and creative and cool. But that time is long gone. If there’s any doubt about how Apple feels about expressing your personality through your devices, consider the fact that their introduction of black iPods and MacBooks doubled the color options for those products (to two, for those of you who haven’t been counting). At this point, Apple has become a purveyor of the same kind of individuality as Urban Outfitters. In other words, thoughtless conformity with a phony uniqueness that really identifies you as, not just part of the crowd but deluded about it as well. I hate the commoditization of individuality (see also: the Gap, MTV, MySpace), and Apple is about as good at convincing its customers that they are expressing themselves as any multi-national syndicate.

    Of course, being a true individual means looking past how a purchase will make you look and actually considering what the best product for you is, but still–I’d much rather be one of millions of contented Dell owners than one of millions of Mac owners, each of whom believes he or she is a delicate flower.

  • Stubbornness
    Apple has quietly supported two-button pointing for a long time, but they refuse to institutionally admit the obvious superiority of the feature by including it in their own laptops. That’s right, their lovely trackpads are crippled by their single button. They finally buckled with the Mighty Mouse, but I tried it out and the purported multi-button functionality is awkward and weird. Just include two buttons, Apple!

    I mention all of this not because the single button mouse is keeping me from switching, but rather because this is symptomatic of a serious problem Apple has–they have a “my way or the highway” attitude that trickles all the way down from Steve Jobs to, I imagine, the lucky janitor who had to sign a 20 page Do Not Disclose agreement before he could start cleaning up after Apple’s insular computer engineers. Don’t get me wrong, lots of companies act like this. But before I buy into Apple’s hardware monopoly I want to be sure that they’re actually looking to improve their products in ways that benefit me.

  • Products
    Okay, let’s get specific about Apple’s current offerings:
    • MacBook:
      Man, I thought I would love this machine. I mean, if I needed a laptop right now I would have probably already ordered the MacBook. But it’s worthless! It’s way too heavy, and the screen is a disastrous size–too small for serious computing, and too big for true portability. It tries to straddle the divide between portability and usability, but ultimately I think it fails on both counts. The worst part about this is that Apple replaced the 12″ iBook and PowerBook with the MacBook, meaning they don’t offer a single truly portable laptop anymore. Huge mistake, unless they’re quietly paving the way for a new ultraportable (not out of the realm of possibility). I did like the keyboard, though–it’s built like an old-school calculator, with buttons rather than keys. I can see how it might rub people the wrong way, but I suspect once you get used to it it’s fun to use.
    • MacBook Pro:
      Good looking device, no question, and specs-wise I’m sure it’s up to any computing I might want to do. But it’s massive, especially the seventeen inch model. I guess I just don’t understand why people buy these huge desktop-replacement laptops. Isn’t the whole point of these things that you can bring them with you everywhere? If you want a sweet computer to sit under your desk but still be able to access your documents elsewhere, save yourself a thousand bucks and get a desktop model and a thumbdrive to save your documents on. And if portable computing is that important to you, you’d probably be better off with an actually portable computer. Am I crazy here? All I know is that I love my 12″ screen, 4.1 pound laptop and would be extremely reluctant to “upgrade” to anything bigger or heavier.
    • Mac Mini:
      This one’s tempting, but it’s a little too expensive and way too limited in terms of expansion. Still, I suspect that once Apple makes some strategic adjustments, this will be the model everyone buys as the centerpiece to their entertainment centers, and I can certainly imagine myself doing the same thing someday. Emphasis on someday.
    • iMac:
      When I have to recycle my computer, I don’t want to have to toss out a beautiful seventeen inch widescreen LCD at the same time.

Still, sooner or later Apple is going to release a compact Intel-based computer that runs or emulates Windows. It’ll be optimized for the things I need (media storage/playing, seamless networking, lookin’ good). And that computer will let me right click. And, price-wise, it’ll compare favorably with anything else on the market. And I’ll buy it.

But that hasn’t happened yet. And I’m not holding my breath, either.

Also, in other wonderful news, Futurama (the show behind my iPod’s inscription and this very blog’s mantra) is coming back to television! In two damn years, but still, that’s pretty awesome. And you know the writers have a lot of ideas that they thought of as soon as the show got cancelled, so expect excellence and hilarity! Of course, there’s a dark side to this news–my once-authoritative Futurama DVD collection is officially incomplete. Sad face. I wonder how this news affects the theoretically-upcoming Futurama movie(s). (Thanks for the link, thebestmarkever!)