I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Past branding efforts like ‘Discover Columbus’ and ‘Surprise, It’s Columbus’ have fizzled and failed to lure tourists to the city, which boasts ‘the most accurate replica’ of the Santa Maria, one of Christopher Columbus’s ships.

Columbus Insists, There’s Lots of There There

My home city has a bit of a branding problem. Columbus is a great city to live, work, and grow up in. It’s full of good office jobs with plenty of affordable houses in nice, safe neighborhoods with great schools.

But there’s no reason to go to Columbus unless you live there or are visiting someone who does. I don’t think the city can really change that. Nobody cares about the Santa Maria, not even the people who live there.

There’s nothing wrong with being what Columbus is — a nice place to live. Why does it need to be a tourist destination?

That said, “Surprise, It’s Columbus” is the worst, most ill-suited, and most hilarious city motto I’ve ever heard.

Given how well Jeff Bezos usually prioritizes reading and legibility, why are his announcements on the Amazon frontpage always images of poorly rendered text?

The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago. And unless the forms of technological progress that produced these things are subject to different laws than technological progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40.

Paul Graham: The Acceleration of Addictiveness

We got the All My Friends Are Dead book (via). It’s awesome.

A stimulus too small to significantly reduce unemployment, a TARP that didn’t trickle down to Main Street, financial reform that doesn’t fundamentally restructure Wall Street, and health-care reforms that don’t promise to bring down health-care costs have all created an enthusiasm gap. They’ve fired up the right, demoralized the left, and generated unease among the general population.

Robert Reich: The Origins of the Enthusiasm Gap 

There’s a new kind of clutter littering Web pages. It’s not just the obnoxious ‘Refinance your mortgage’ ads plastered atop and alongside articles. It’s also not just the animated nonsense that floats by as you’re trying to read.

It’s the article itself.

Richard Ziade on the increasingly prevalent disposable content.

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same sex couples.

Judge Vaughn Walker Hands Victory to Proposition 8 Opponents

A-1 Courier Service has ruined Amazon Prime

If you order something from Amazon in New York City with two-day, overnight, or same-day shipping, there’s a good chance that it will be delivered by A-1 Courier Service instead of FedEx or UPS.

But they have a major problem with losing packages. I’ve now had 2 lost packages out of 8 total A-1 shipments in only a few months, a 25% loss rate.1 The first one was supposedly delivered and signed for by “PENDING” (yeah), then was returned to Amazon as “undeliverable” a month later. The second one has been “out for delivery” for three days and is nowhere to be found.2 Both, of course, were sent via the free 2-day shipping option that’s the main selling point of Amazon Prime.

It’s not just me. A-1 has a pretty high error rate. Others have noticed. Quite a lot of them, actually. Even the Amazon chat rep during the May loss mentioned that they had been having problems with this carrier recently.

There’s no way for customers to know which shipper will be used before ordering, and we have no choice in the matter, so Amazon needs to ensure that these couriers maintain the same quality of service as the shippers that we normally expect. (And since our bar here is UPS and FedEx, that really shouldn’t be too difficult.)

Given A-1’s incredibly poor service as reported by many customers for more than six months, and with Amazon’s staff clearly aware of the issues for most of this time, it’s appalling that Amazon continues to use them. This is a serious failure on Amazon’s part.

I’m going to have a hard time ordering anything from Amazon as long as there’s any chance it will be delivered by A-1 Courier Service. If this is not resolved soon, I see no reason to keep paying for Amazon Prime.

  1. Others have had issues with home delivery, but these are always to my office. It’s open every weekday and we never miss deliveries. We get a delivery from FedEx, UPS, or both almost daily, and they have never had any issues or any lost packages. ↩︎

  2. Sorry. I haven’t written a ranty shipping-drama blog post in years, and I know they’re about as exciting as listening to a long-winded description of someone’s hazy dream. But I’m hoping that maybe this might somehow get to someone important enough at Amazon to kick A-1 off their courier list and give me my favorite retailer back. ↩︎

The 2010 Mac Pro CPUs and pricing

Now that I’ve convinced you to get a Mac Pro instead of an iMac, it’s time to decide which Mac Pro to get.

If you go with a single-socket option (4 or 6 cores), you’ll only have 4 RAM slots instead of the 8 offered by dual-socket models. This halves the max supported RAM, which may reduce its useful lifespan depending on what you need in the future (although the 16 GB ceiling is pretty high, and may potentially be 32 GB later with high-capacity aftermarket modules). This also increases the cost of future upgrades, since you need to buy higher-capacity modules and you’ll probably need to discard the older, smaller ones to make room for the new ones.

Sorry, Dashboard/RSS viewers, this is a big table! Click here to view on the site.

 CoresGHzRAM slotsPrice*CPU score**$/point
W3530 (base)42.84$3,8737,661$0.51
Two E562082.48$4,64813,133$0.35
Two X5650122.668$6,14824,227$0.25
Two X5670122.938$7,34826,686$0.28
27” iMac, i742.934$2,3998,520$0.28

* Prices are with 8 GB RAM and a 27” Cinema Display for parity across the lines.

** These are GeekBench CPU-score estimates based on the scores that GeekBench already has listed within the same CPU families and similar configurations. Not to be taken literally, but meant as a likely ballpark. Fun fact, for a longevity example: my 2.5-year-old Mac Pro (8-core, 2.8 GHz Harpertown, 8 RAM slots) gets about an 10,000 Geekbench CPU score. It cost $3,400 new, or about $4,900 when equipped like these.

The 27” iMac with the Core i7 is still a great value up front, although high-end needs make it a worse value over time.

Usually, most of the premium for higher-end CPUs goes to Intel. This time, Apple is taking a much bigger slice for themselves:

  Intel’s CPU price* over base model’s CPU (single W3530) Apple’s price over base model
Nehalem W3565 $319 $400
Westmere W3680 $731 $1,200
Two Nehalem E5620 $180 $775**
Two Westmere X5650 $1,448 $2,275**
Two Westmere X5670 $2,318 $3,475**

* Once again, these are approximate, based on current retail pricing for OEM-packaged chips. Apple gets better pricing, but probably not by enough to matter for this comparison.

** The 8 GB RAM upgrade is $225 cheaper on dual-socket models, which has been figured in here. Also, keep in mind that for dual-socket models, Apple incurs additional costs in having a second CPU heatsink, another RAM riser, and any additional power circuitry and capacity needed. (Usually, the single-socket model uses the same motherboard and power supply, but with the second socket and RAM riser slot empty.)

Those who criticize the Mac Pro for being too expensive usually don’t realize how much Intel charges for their high-end Xeons, but Apple’s margin is bigger here than it needs to be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter (which is why Apple does it), because most people who need that much CPU power in a Mac Pro are willing to pay whatever price Apple chooses.

Back to the original question: Which Mac Pro CPU configuration should you get?

If you’re getting a Mac Pro, you’re not as price-sensitive as the average buyer, and you probably need more power, memory, and expandability than most users.

The 4-core, 2.8 GHz base configuration above, at $3,873 (again, these prices all include 8 GB of RAM and the new 27” Cinema Display that you can’t actually order yet), is still going to be more expandable and versatile than an iMac. But at such a large premium over the Core i7 iMac, it’s tough to justify or recommend. It’s like buying an SLR if you’re only ever going to use the kit lens.

The 6-core, 3.33 GHz configuration, at $5,073, is a good buy. This is what I’d recommend for most Mac Pro buyers, even though it only has 4 RAM slots.

The 8-core, 2.4 GHz configuration, at $4,648, is the cheapest way to get all 8 RAM slots, and performs acceptably. But it will be much slower at single-threaded tasks than the 6-core — many common tasks are still single-threaded and will only saturate one core. Unless you need the RAM slots, I’d get the 6-core 3.33 GHz instead of this.

The 12-core, 2.66 GHz configuration, at $6,148, is the best value in the lineup for raw CPU power. But its high entry price make it worthwhile only if you anticipate needing more than 16 GB of RAM or regularly making good use of the power of three top-of-the-line iMacs (and at about the same as what they would cost). Although if you need that much power, you’re most likely using it to make a living, in which case the power may be worth its cost to you.

When you buy, since I don’t have an affiliate link to the Apple Store, use this one from Bare Feats, an awesome site for geeks like me and anyone who actually made it to the bottom of this post.

The big political story of the year may turn out to be the consequences of the GOP’s foray into extremism and wackiness. It could be that the party acculturates its not-ready-for-prime-time candidates, harnesses the energy of the Tea Party movement and sweeps to a grand old victory. There is also the distinct possibility that the acute philosophical split within the party — basically, a clash between bedrock conservatism and utter nonsense — will hand victories to Democrats that they didn’t anticipate and frankly might not deserve. Anyone who doubts this assessment should reflect on the fact that major figures in the Republican Party are wasting valuable time and energy debating whether the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1868, should be repealed.

Eugene Robinson (via azspot)

This iPhone/iPod sync option is new to a recent version of iTunes. It’s incredibly useful and helps cram a lot more music into a device’s limited space, especially if you have a lot of high-bitrate songs.

There are only three annoying issues:

  1. The first time a song is copied to a device, it transcodes it, which makes initial syncs with new music very slow.
  2. The downsampled files aren’t stored anywhere on your hard drive, so if you sync more than one device, it needs to transcode the songs again for each one. And if you perform a restore on a device, the first sync takes forever as it transcodes all of the music again. This may be the lesser of two evils: the other option, storing a 128 kbps copy of a lot of your music on your hard drive, is probably less desirable to most Mac users since they’re likely to be using a laptop with limited disk space. But repeated transcodings are made more annoying because:
  3. The CPU-bound transcoding process is single-threaded, even though Apple hasn’t sold a single-core computer since 2006. A restructuring of the transcoding code to be multithreaded would make this process 2 or 4 times faster for nearly every Mac owner (and 4 or 8 times faster for most Mac Pro owners).

I’ve enabled this feature for everything I sync, despite the downsides, because it makes such a big difference in space for my library (much of which was purchased at 256 kbps or ripped from CDs at high bitrates).

There’s technically a quality hit, but I have yet to notice it with any compact headphones, and you definitely wouldn’t notice it with earbuds.

SXSW panel pimping

I’m trying to be on a panel. If you’re going to SXSW 2011 and think this is a cool idea, please vote for it.

This, this, and this also sound great.

A smartphone retrospective

This is what high-end smartphones looked like in 2007:

Smartphones were an established consumer-electronics market with devices that people thought were pretty cool, but often frustrating and with serious shortcomings and design flaws.

Then this happened:

Other manufacturers had neglected touchscreens for years, but Apple figured out how to do a touchscreen well, and did.

Fans of the former types of smartphones and much of the tech press declared this smartphone useless or not capable enough because of its lack of a keyboard, its non-removable battery, its lack of expansion slots or ports, and other hardware features in which Apple chose differently from what most other manufacturers were doing.

That ended up not mattering. Now, most high-end smartphones look like this:

In early 2010, subcompact, inexpensive computers (a.k.a. “netbooks”) looked like this:

Netbooks were an established consumer-electronics market with devices that people thought were pretty cool, but often frustrating and with serious shortcomings and design flaws.

Then this happened:

Other manufacturers had neglected tablets for years, but Apple figured out how to do a tablet well, and did.

Fans of netbooks and much of the tech press declared this subcompact, inexpensive computer useless or not capable enough because of its lack of a keyboard, its non-removable battery, its lack of expansion slots or ports, and other hardware features in which Apple chose differently from what most other manufacturers were doing.

That ended up not mattering. And now, other manufacturers are scrambling to build tablet products as quickly as possible.

How do you think the subcompact, inexpensive computer category will look in three years?

Charging an iPhone with AA batteries

I got a Tekkeon TekCharge MP1550 AA-battery-to-USB1 charger for a backpacking trip. (Know what’s really useful pretty much anywhere? An iPhone.)

AA batteries are much more versatile than common lithium-ion battery-extender packs. You can buy AA batteries nearly anywhere that sells anything, and they hold a surprising amount of power. And as long as you can keep feeding them AAs, they’ll keep going, letting you carry quite a bit of charging capacity if you’re willing to bring a lot of batteries.

There are three common types of AA batteries today:

To test them in my iPhone 4, I discharged it to 20% (when the low-battery warning dialog pops up), then charged it back up to 100% or as far as it would go until the voltage was too low to keep charging the iPhone.3 This was not perfectly isolated, since I left the radios on and occasionally used the phone lightly during the tests. The numbers are meant to be estimates.

So here’s each battery type and the number of 20-100% charges they were able to achieve in the TekCharge MP1550, plus a popular traditional-style iPhone extended battery, the generic Monoprice lithium-ion iPhone extended battery4.

Battery type20-100% charges
Energizer Ultimate Lithium, 4 AAs2.20
AccuEvolution NiMH, 4 AAs1.21
Monoprice iPhone battery, lithium-ion0.96
Energizer alkaline, 4 AAs0.70

Two options seem to make the most sense: iPhone-specific lithium-ion batteries like the Monoprice or the more popular 3GJuice, Richard Solo, or Mophie products are best for rechargeable use, especially in situations in which you can recharge them often and only need an occasional boost.

But for long trips5 away from power sources, non-rechargeable lithium AAs are by far the best — as long as you don’t mind spending money on each set and throwing them away afterward, which are admittedly two major downsides.

It’s hard to make a case for using NiMH rechargeables to charge an iPhone, especially for backpacking, where weight is important: seven lithiums weigh just under what four NiMHs weigh. So you can get about 3.6 times the iPhone-charging capacity per gram from lithiums than from NiMHs — but you can’t recharge them.

  1. The TekCharge MP1550 would not charge the iPad, regardless of battery type. ↩︎

  2. These are just like Eneloops. Please don’t email me and suggest that I try Eneloops. I know what they are. Two of my LSD NiMH cells are Eneloops, but I didn’t use them in this test because I don’t have four of them and they’ve historically performed exactly like two AccuEvolutions.

    Generally, identical battery types from different manufacturers (in this case, NiMH LSDs) perform nearly identically. ↩︎

  3. A full charge took the same amount of time — about 151 minutes — regardless of battery type, probably because it’s limited by the rate at which the iPhone draws power. ↩︎

  4. Formerly found here, but it looks like they’ve stopped selling it. Google’s cache. These ended up being a worse deal than expected because my credit card number was stolen from them. I didn’t lose any money over it, but it cost me a lot of time. ↩︎

  5. By the way, the trip starts tomorrow morning. See you in a week. ↩︎

FaceTime adoption

Dan Moren, for Macworld, doubts FaceTime’s usefulness:

Honestly, the real question isn’t whether or not the iPod touch will get support for FaceTime, but whether or not the touch’s adoption of the technology will actually bolster FaceTime’s usefulness and popularity.

With a few exceptions, FaceTime seems to largely be confined to the realm of novelty at present. I’ve used the feature a handful of times myself, but mainly for the sake of trying it out.

I’ve used FaceTime once, with my wife while she was out of town. It was great. But most of the time, I don’t use it. This is largely for two reasons:

  1. For any given call, the likelihood that the person on the other end has an iPhone 4 and that we’re both on Wi-Fi is low. This problem will probably solve itself over the next two years.
  2. I forget I can do it. This one’s more interesting.

When iPhone OS 3.0 was released a year ago, it took me a while to reliably remember that I could copy and paste. I’d still transfer data between apps as if I couldn’t, using the old workarounds that I had grown accustomed to.

Now, a few months after iOS 4, I still barely multitask at all because I usually forget that I can — sure, the phone is doing it for me, but I still use apps as if they don’t multitask, again using the old workarounds.

With every new iPhone1 hardware or software release, we get a bunch of new capabilities. But because we grew accustomed to our iPhones’ prior feature-sets as the limits of what the platform was at the time we got to know the platform, we often forget about or completely miss new functionality that arrived afterward.

For instance, did you know that iOS 4 added Bluetooth-keyboard support? Do you still avoid Apple’s Notes app because you think it doesn’t sync your notes? Do you ever use shake-to-undo? Did you know that you can send someone a Contact over SMS? Have you ever written down a phone number from another app onto a piece of paper, then switched to Phone to dial it while referring to the paper, because you didn’t know that you can Paste into the Phone dialer?

We, the long-time iPhone owners, won’t be the first ones to use FaceTime regularly.

But the next generation of iPhone owners will.

FaceTime is the sort of technology that we “old” people will promptly forget that we can do, and then be shocked when we learn that young people are doing it en masse.

They don’t know that iPhones (or just phones, for that matter) can’t do video chat. Because theirs can. Young people and first-time mobile-phone owners pioneered mass usage of SMS while the old people were making fun of slowly typing poorly spelled messages on a device that allowed you to just call the person with far less perceived effort. Then the young people started sending around MMS pictures while we made fun of crappy phone cameras.

I eventually came around to SMS and MMS. You probably did, too. And I bet we’ll all come around to FaceTime in a few years when the from-this-point-forward iPhone buyers remind us that it’s great.

  1. This applies to many technologies. But I’ll keep this post iPhone-specific. ↩︎