Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pushing Daisies

This is easily the best new show on TV. The premise is a bit strange. A pie-maker solves murders on the side by bringing people back to life with a touch, asking them how they died, then returning them to death with a second touch. Once they have been touched a second time they are dead for good.

Also, if he doesn't touch them the second time within 60 seconds then something else dies.

The twist is that he found his childhood love in the morgue and let her live. (A second twist is that years before he brought his mother back to life and her father died to balance it.)

What really sets the show apart is the presentation. It has the best narration since Arrested Development. Many of the sets are brightly lit with primary colors giving it the same feel as Tim Burton's Big Fish.

Then there are the murders. They are as off-beat as the rest of the show. In the second episode a man was killed by a crash test dummy.

Then there is the sexual tension between the leads. They are strongly attracted to each other but cannot touch directly.

The big question is if they can keep it up. Often shows like this start out string but can't live up to the pilot. By the time they are canceled it is a mercy killing. At three episodes in, they haven't slacked off yet which is pretty promising.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Windows vs Mac

Last week I wrote about the iPhone and issues that I see with owning one. I noticed a recent column in ZDNews about why Windows users in general  don't switch to the Mac. This in turn leads to an earlier column on the same subject on a pro-Apple site. I thought I would add in my own observations. Unlike the columns I mentioned, I am not a Mac user. I have used a Mac a few times. The most I have done was some trouble-shooting on why a Mac wasn't connecting to the Internet properly (it was using the wrong name-server and I had to open a unix prompt to figure it out). I will also note that I have extensive Unix and Linux background. Basically, this is why someone who is not afraid of new operating systems does not switch.

Let's get the big reason out first - money. I've priced at Macs. They start at around $1,100. I can get a perfectly usable PC for half that. I realize that I can get a Mac mini for a lot less and hook up my own peripherals. It's still a lot of money since a comparably-priced PC will include everything.

Mac users can argue that their boxes are better built, will do more, etc. I don't care. A BMW owner could make the same points without getting me to buy a new, more expensive car.

This dovetails into the second big factor - OS/10 may be great but Windows XP is good enough. I can do everything I want a PC to do on XP. some things may be easier or work better on the Mac but it is not enough difference to switch.

There are hidden costs to making the switch. If I buy a new PC I can usually run all of my old software. If I buy an Apple I have to get new software. Some products don't have an Apple version. There are replacements but this could get expensive quickly. I have a lot of graphics software (all legal). Some I bought. Some I got free through special offers. I am sure I would lose a lot of it if I switched to Mac. Yes, thee is boot-camp. I could buy a version of Windows and run it on the Mac. All of my software would work but I'd be left with an expensive Windows PC. I think I could run it in a virtual session at a performance penalty and I'd probably still have to buy Windows.

A different hidden cost - hardware upgrades. I've gone through several PCs and I usually stretch their life by upgrading the disk, memory and possibly the video. I'm not sure how possible this is with the Mac.

Apple's ads don't help their case. They have several that imply that PCs can only be used for business. One in particular has the Mac guy showing off his digital pictures while the PC guy shows a spreadsheet graphing how much fun he had. This ad was so over the top wrong that my wife even complained about it. This raises the question - if I know that Apple is lying in some ads, why should I believe the other ads? Even without that, the PC guy is more likable than the Mac guy.

Then there is the whole cult of Steve thing. I have it on good authority that Steve Jobs is a jerk to work for. He is a control freak. usually this only affects people at Apple but sometimes this bleeds into the product. Look at the fights over the iPhone. You may buy it but Apple thinks that they still own it. Back when they introduced the Mac, around 25 years ago, they tried to control it the same way. You violated your warranty just by plugging in a hard disk or printer that someone besides Apple made. More recently they've done it with music. Music you buy on iTunes will only play on an iPod. Apple will not license anyone else. Real Media made a way to convert files to Real's format without removing copy restrictions. Apple had a fit because people could then play music they bought from Apple on players from someone else.

It seems like buying an Apple includes a commitment to join the Cult of Steve. This includes putting up with the stuff I just mentioned and more. There also seems to be a requirement to evangelize. All of that is a lot more commitment than I want to put into an operating system.

So, why would I want to switch? Graphics? Yes, they are nice. Vista is better and Linux has some snazzy effects that will run on low-end hardware. There are a lot fewer viruses for the Mac but that isn't a big issue for me. I have good anti-virus software and I know what not to run. If I was really worried, I could move to Linux and keep my existing hardware.

Bottom line - I'd be paying money to be cool. That just isn't me.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Whose iPod is It?

I lost my Sansa MP3 player while on vacation. I was seriously considering until Christmas to replace it and asking for an iPod Touch but Apple's recent antics with the iPhone have scared me away. While I understand why they did some of their actions their attitude still leaves me cold.

First there is the "iBricking" of the iPhone. A recent firmware upgrade disables iPhones that have been "unlocked" from AT&T. I can sort of understand this. They got a great deal from AT&T. Apple gets a portion of AT&T's monthly charge for the life of the contract. The update might not have even been Apple's idea. Someone from AT&T might have called Steve Jobs and reminded him that it was supposed to be impossible to switch from AT&T. There might even be a penalty clause in their contract.

But there are reports that there are flaws in the update and some phones that were never unlocked are also nonfunctional. That's not good.

Then there is Apple's undisguised greed. They started out by charging a lot more for the phone than they planned to sell it for. Why? Because they knew they have a devoted core that would buy it at any price. Once they worked through that core they lowered the price down to the real one.

This also shows up in the way they handled ringtones. Apple wants you to pay twice for each ringtone. First, you have to buy it from iTunes, then you have to pay to have it converted to a ringtone. Some people figured out how to get around this but the steps are too technical for most people. Regardless, Apple has changed the firmware around a few times to lock people into Apple ringtones. I can't image why they would bother except for the possibility of losing a few dollars licensing.

Beyond all of this, there is the insistence that every aspect of the iPhone should be controlled by Apple through iTunes. The phones have at least 8 gig but none of it can be accessed by the user. You cannot run third party applications on it. There are ways around this and Apple disabled them with the last update, also.

Supposedly the embargo on 3rd party software and storage is part of the AT&T contract. They didn't want a virus getting into the phone system. I might buy that if it were not for the iPod Touch.

In theory the iPod Touch is an iPhone without the phone part. I'm not sure if it is also missing the camera, Apple's web site mainly talks about the new features (the ability to buy music at Starbucks). So you might think that Apple would run more things on the stand-alone iPod than on the iPhone, right? Wrong. Some features are missing. At minimum you cannot update your calendar. Also, these are the only two units in the iPod line that will not let you use as a general purpose USB drive.

What I would like is a music player that lets me store files locally and access the web. The iPod only does some of this and I suspect that I would get frustrated before I got my money's worth.

In the meantime I picked up a Sansa Express. It's tiny - arounf 25% longer than a USB drive. It has all of the features of the bigger one except the screen for pictures and movies. Since I mainly use it for music, that's fine. It doesn't have the scroll wheel so navigation is a bit slower but otherwise it works just the same. One nice touch - it has a built-in USB plug and a short extension in case it doesn't fit. Like the other Sansas, I can use the Media Player to synchronize music or just copy and paste.

There is a reason that Sansa jumped to the #2 slot in MP3 players in a year. They don't have the cult appeal of Apple, they just work.