Is the iPhone X worth $1,000?

Here’s the thing about the new iPhone X. Apple needed to create a top-of-the-line, all-the-bells-and-whistles phone because every major phone maker must have one like it. The problem is that unlike most Android phone manufacturers, Apple has to make their phones in immense quantities.

A middle-of-the-road Android manufacturer will sell probably 10,000 to 100,000 units of their top of the line phone. If Apple priced their top phone at the normal tiers starting at $699, the demand would be for the usual 10 million, at least, and perhaps more. Which is great if you can make the phones.

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Solar Power Struggles

My brother had solar panels installed on his house by SolarCity about 3 or 4 years ago now, right near the beginning of the new leased solar panel trend. In the past, you had to buy a solar panel setup outright, often at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars outlay. Even with tax credits and electric savings, you wouldn’t see a return on your investment for years. But the new solar panel leasing allows you to get panels on your roof for a low monthly fee. You don’t own the panels, but maintenance is taken care of by the vendor and, in our case, we’d save about half off our utility bill.

This seemed like a good deal so we contacted my brother’s salesman, but because of a number of distractions we never followed through. Earlier this year, I saw something from Google about going solar where I could enter my information and several different solar companies would contact me about their services. I did and heard from one, Vivint. They gave me their pitch, which outlined what’s involved and how much we would pay.

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iPhone Was More Than Cool Tech

In 2005, I owned a Blackberry Pearl. I thought it was pretty cool. I could type out emails and even access the internet… sort of. In reality, it wasn’t all that great. You could tap out an email after a fashion on the tiny keyboard and the the “internet” was a janky AT&T-specific set of web services in a weird interface.

In 2004, I recall spending an October evening with Melanie as she was dress shopping for a friend’s wedding, even as the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in what would become the greatest comeback in baseball history on the road to an historic World Series win. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a deserted department store trying to follow the game’s box score on my tiny phone and its text interface.

Back to 2005, Melanie and I got married and spent our honeymoon driving through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, much of which was as a desert as far as cell signals went. We spent a lot of the time in the car talking and I recall one conversation in which I told Melanie that very soon we would have ubiquitous internet, where we would have constant access to every web site and be in constant contact with anyone virtually anywhere. It seemed like science fiction then, but two years later it started to become reality.

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Backfire on The Oatmeal

I’ve long been a fan of The Oatmeal, the often irreverent web comic drawn and written by Matthew Inman. Once upon a time, the comics were wry discussions of common points of friction in life, like bad grammar or exercising or packing for a trip, or happy excursions on interesting tidbits of wonder or joy, like the love of a pet or the amazing mantis shrimp or the incredible life of Nikolai Tesla. The comic has become so popular that Inman is a veritable one-man viral campaign. His merest suggestion of support for a cause can raise millions of dollars in days.

Sadly, the comic has declined in recent years, in my opinion, because it has succumbed to that disease that has run amok today, namely that everything is political. So now the comics tend toward rants, mostly liberal, against the dangerous others, primarily Donald Trump and his voters.

In the last day or so, another Oatmeal comic has gone viral, this one on the psychological phenomenon of the “backfire effect.”1 It’s a series of panels that are supposed to show that we are evolutionarily hardwired to believe new information that supports our core beliefs and reject new information that challenges them. His conclusion is that it’s okay to let our emotional selves react, but then we should engage our logic and change our minds so we can all be happy agreeing with one another.

I have a few problems with this.2 First, just because you can make a citation doesn’t make new information true. Yes, sometimes we are actually wrong about a basic fact of reality, e.g. That event occurred in 1945, not 1946. But even as Inman points out, those sorts of facts rarely impinge upon core beliefs. Instead core beliefs—those at the very core of self-identity and understanding—are complex. So a citation can never be simple. It’s often an interpretation or hypothesis or a claim that can admit no easy proofs.
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What Else Does Fedex Know About Me?

From the creepy “How Did You Know?” file, comes this experience signing up for a personal Federal Express delivery services account for myself. In order to “validate” the new account—presumably to ensure someone wasn’t impersonating me in order to get notification of when packages were being delivered to me and thus intercept them—they ask four personal multiple-choice questions:

  1. In what month was Melanie (my wife who they mentioned by name) born?
  2. Which of the following people am I “associated” with?
  3. What was the recorded sale price of my home?
  4. Which of the listed counties have I lived in?

Each question had four possible answers. The second question listed four people and it turned out that the one I’m “associated” with is my half-sister’s fiancé. Now, to be honest, I’m not close with my half-siblings; they’re much younger than I am and from my dad’s second marriage. I knew she was engaged and I could have guessed at his first name, but I couldn’t have recalled the last name off the top of my head. But since the first name guess was on the list for only one of the people, I chose it. I was right.

What’s creeping me out is that Federal Express knew who he is, but I didn’t. But the sad reality is that, as a security measure, these questions are terrible. It’s obvious that they’re data-mining publicly available records, including social media. and if they could find that information, someone impersonating me could. In fact, I bet I could easily find the answers to questions 1, 3, and 4 for most people through some Google searching1 and question 2 if they have a fairly open social media presence (which I’m guessing they rely on in order to get that answer.)

FedEx says they don’t store this information, but that’s no comfort, because they already had it to begin with. The information came from somewhere and could just as easily be retrieved.

So what we have is a creepy Big Brother corporation that uses personal information in a creepy “we know you” way, but in a way that provides no actual security. Great. What else do they know? And if they know it, who else can get this stuff? We’re living in a new era.

  1. A spouse’s birthday would be standard social media searching and if I knew their address in order to signup for the account, the last sale price is in Zillow, among other places.

Unnecessary Verizon Backup Battery

Almost exactly 3 years ago, I started hearing a loud beep every few minutes in my home office. For the life of me I couldn’t track it down because it was so intermittent and unexpected.1 Eventually, after nearly going insane and crawling about the office, listening carefully, I tracked it down to Verizon’s backup battery unit on the Fios equipment where it comes into the house.

At the time, I determined that rather than pay an exorbitant fee to Verizon to send out a tech with a new battery so he could slide off two leads on the old one and slide two leads onto the new one, I would do it myself. I bought a replacement on Amazon for $20, swapped it with the old one and then drove around with the old one in my car for a year, trying to find a place to recycle it.

Now, you can probably guess why I’m writing this today, 3 years later. Yep, the replacement battery has died and the beeping has resumed. I couldn’t remember the details of what to get to replace the Verizon backup battery, so I went to Verizon’s web site and found the replacement instructions. But what I also found was a note that told me that I don’t need the battery backup unit!

That’s right. The Verizon backup battery unit is only there to ensure that your Verizon landline service continues to operate in case of a power outage. Except we don’t have a Verizon landline. We’ve never had a Verizon landline. This battery backup serves no purpose at all! What a waste of time and money.

Oh well, at least now I won’t ever hear the incessant beeping again.

Until my smoke detector batteries die, of course.

  1. What is it with consumer device manufacturers? If you want my attention to a rarely noticed device beep constantly. I’m looking at you too, smoke detectors.

MacBook Pro Would Not Login (File Vault Corruption)

I embarked on a scary and unexpected journey today with my MacBook Pro when it would not login when I started it. I’m writing about it here in case anyone else has a similar problem.

It began when Safari froze while I was in Facebook.1 In fact, it wasn’t just Safari. The spinning beach ball was on the screen, but nothing was moving. I couldn’t switch to other apps. One notable fact: The trackpad was still working, insofar as it was registering clicks.2

So, of course, I restarted the computer by holding down the power button until it went black and I heard the System Startup sound. Here’s where the real trouble began.

When the login screen came up, I couldn’t do anything. If I typed, nothing showed up. Well, that’s not exactly true. It was like everything was extremely slow. Eventually, one character might appear in the password box. The cursor didn’t move, although it would eventually jerk a little like it was catching. After a while, a message came up asking if I was having trouble with my password.

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Sorry, Here’s A Billboard

In late November, I sent a support request to Ring.com with a question about a couple of their products I own.1 Their site claims that they are committed to respond to every request within 24 hours. Instead, I waited four days with no response and then sent another request. Again, nothing, and I didn’t make another attempt.

Two weeks after that, I finally got a response. They apologized for failing to respond, were willing to help now, and offered to send me, as a sign of gratitude for my (assumed) patience and understanding, a complimentary “Ring Solar Sign”, which is a solar-powered version of those little alarm company signs you see on lawns as a deterrent to would-be burglars. Emphasis on “little”.

Now, I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I don’t think the proper response to a customer service failure is to offer to send me something to stick on my lawn to advertise your service. I wasn’t looking for any handouts at all, just help with my problem, but am I wrong that this feels a little tone-deaf?

Anyway, not wanting to be a roadblock to getting my problem solved, I said, thanks, and then laid out my problem, saying I figured out one part, but still had trouble with the other. Their response said that the complimentary sign was on its way and we addressed my troubles.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to today when I received a package in the mail, containing the box you see above. I was curious that they would need such a large box for a little sign. So I opened it up and found this monstrosity.

That thing is almost a foot wide! And it will be lit up at night! I thought it was going to be a little sign and they send me a billboard. I suppose if I was living in some McMansion with a long driveway, you might need something that big to see it from the street, but I live in a little ranch with a postage—stamp driveway. That thing could keep my across-the-street neighbor awake at night.

So, thanks but no thanks, Ring. I think I’ll go stealth on my security and stick to the doorbells and video cameras.

  1. You can see my review here.

Favorite iOS Apps of 2016

In recent years, I’ve occasionally ended the year with some blog posts on my favorite iOS and Mac apps from the previous 12 months, although I haven’t written one recently1. These aren’t necessarily apps that have come out in the past year but the notable ones I’ve been using the most. But first, a few thoughts on how I use iOS devices.

I now own an iPhone 7 Plus, upgrading from an iPhone 6s Plus this year. I’d held off on getting the bigger phone in 2015, worrying that it would be just too large for me, because I have short, thick fingers. (I will never play violin or reach a whole octave on a piano.) I shouldn’t have worried. The new phone is amazing with an immense screen that I use two-handed and it gives me benefit of a bigger battery and the better photos in the camera that the smaller phone doesn’t have.

This year I upgraded to an iPad Pro 9.7” from my old iPad 4. I had dropped the iPad 4 months before in 2015 and cracked a corner of the screen and so had put it in a thick leather case to prevent further damage. Unfortunately, it is now prone to turning off randomly while using it and it was showing its age, running modern apps much slower than the iPhone. We also have a handful of iPad 2s and an iPad mini around the house, acquired here and there from family and friends upgrading to newer iPads, but those are mainly used by Melanie and the kids.

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College and Travel In A Time of Smartphones

Melanie and I both went to college in the early 1990s and we were just reminiscing about what campus culture was like back then and how it must be different today in the age of social media and smartphones.

When we were in college, most dorms had pay phones and sometimes dorm rooms had phones too, but the roommates had to pay for them. At our colleges, no one had email. I lived off campus for my four years at Franciscan University of Steubenville, so I had a phone in my apartments. Long distance calling was still a thing and expensive back then so I didn’t talk to my family on a whim.

In order to organize people, you had to call everyone or see them between classes and pass the word.

In Steubenville, I didn’t have cable. For my first two years I had an ancient black-and-white TV that got two channels. My last two years I had a color TV and we had basic cable, but still didn’t get all the normal channels So I totally missed the first few years of “The X-Files”, but was able to binge watch “Road Rules” on MTV instead of studying for finals one semester.

Melanie spent a semester at the University of Dallas’ Rome campus. They had one pay phone for the students to use to get and receive calls, but international calling costs… Yikes! When they were traveling about Europe, they had to rely on guidebooks, posters and pamphlets in foreign languages, and gestures and pidgin English with helpful strangers to figure out train schedules and the like. They were flying without a safety net.

Today, students can message with anyone back home or anywhere in the world from a device in their pocket. They can call home on a whim. They can look up any information they need anywhere.

Life changes. In my grandparents time, traveling to Europe took weeks on a ship, not hours on a plane. Going to college meant almost total disconnection from family for four years.

I do wonder sometimes though how a “smaller” world in which communication is so easy and ubiquitous changes the perception of travel. If it’s easier does it’s value change? Are there new lessons to learn in place of the old ones? Or does it still teach a kind of self-reliance even if help might be a phone call away?

How has social media and smartphones changed college campus life? With everybody tweeting and instagramming and facebooking everything, how does it change how people interact and socialize and connect? Our kids are years away from college, so it will be different again undoubtedly from now, but I do wonder how their experience will differ from ours.

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