The greatest advance in computer technology

HP TX-2 Bought in 2007, it sported 4 USB ports, a DVD drive, two expansion ports, a VGA port, and an IR remote control.

My three HP laptops I have serve as latter-day museum pieces of how technology has progressed. I am not trying to slag Hewlett-Packard. I like their printers, and despite their reputation, I also like their laptops. Today, I am mentioning them as a microcosm of how technology has progressed. What can be said about HP can be said across the industry. HP is nothing special in this regard. These are all full laptops with attached keyboards. They all have rotating displays with a webcam, onboard stereo mikes, stereo speakers, a touchscreen and a mousepad. Also, it is fair to say all of these laptops were purchased used (saving nearly a thousand dollars apiece off the prices when new), but all have been fully functional from the first day, and are still functional.

As you read the captions on each successive illustration going from top to bottom, what I don’t mention is that, of course, video is more advanced; and the last laptop, the Elitebook is, in my experience, the first to offer an internal SSD out of the box. The Elitebook also has nowhere near the heat problems suffered by my TX2.

HP TM-2 Bought in 2010, it removed one USB port, and one of the expansion ports. It also removed the DVD ROM and no longer has an IR remote. It also removed the VGA but replaced it with an HDMI port.

But these advances are small compared to the greatest advance the progression of these laptops show: the elimination of major features, and the marketing effort on the part of computer companies that this is a “good thing”. By the time we get to the Elitebook, we no longer have a DVD drive, and have eliminated half of our USB ports. Neither of the two USB ports that remain are USB3, either. Not mentioned in the captions, are the elimination of the spare headphone jack, and the microphone jack. The combination mike/headphone jack on the Elitebook won’t support actual microphones, supporting instead, perhaps, mikes built into the headset. My headset uses a USB connection, and wouldn’t require an eighth-inch jack connection. But microphone support is terrible, making the built-in mikes your only good option.

Elitebook Revolve 810
HP EliteBook Revolve 810 Bought in 2015, it lacks all of the features the TM-2 was lacking, except one less USB port, and no touch pen. It also has neither VGA nor HDMI, but it has something touted to be a “dual display port” which fits nothing on any equipment I have, but can be converted to HDMI with the right adapter cable. It is whisper-quiet, partly because the speakers are not that great.

One thing (out of many other reasons) that motivated me not to get rid of my two older laptops is the one reason anyone would buy a convertible tablet in the first place: apart from using the screen for direct windows navigation, you can also write documents in your own handwriting, or make drawings freehand on the tablet screen. I do make use of this feature, and found to my horror that the Elitebook has really terrible support of freehand writing and drawing. The other two actually have pretty good support, and it was a great disappointment to see this feature lacking in the Elitebook despite a faster CPU and graphics processor. Apart from not having a stylus, the craggy way it renders drawings of straight lines when you do use a stylus – and even if you use a ruler – has been well documented in many other blogs and video reviews.

But even with the HP EliteBook, Apple and Google have gone even further over the deep end with elimination of features, with consumers willing to pay more for equipment that can do less. It is a marketer’s wet dream, made manifest in reality. Who needs a keyboard at all, or any external connectors? Use Bluetooth for all your peripherals (nowadays, the keyboard is a peripheral), and “the cloud” as your external hard drive. And still, these pieces of crippled hardware are so popular, they almost sell themselves. Having only bluetooth restricts flexibility, since a peripheral that doesn’t use bluetooth, such as a USB drive, is no longer an option for owners of these devices. To store, I would only have “the cloud”, and I would have to hope I would have free internet access everywhere I go in order to access my data. It is quite possible that users who rely on cloud storage are paying monthly for their internet connection, and paying monthly again for “cloud” storage. Of course Apple, Google and Microsoft are happy to provide cloud services so you can store as much data as possible, and to autosave your documents in the cloud to maximize your use of their cloud services.

What is “universal” about USB?

I am one of those hopeless romantics who believe that words must mean something. “Universal” is quite a stong word when used, and its all-encompassing reach implies that it is good for … well, everything. As in the whole universe which contains that thing. lists at least 18 connectors according to “device class”, few of which you would consider interchangeable with another. I have seen, for example radically differently shaped portable hard drive connectors over the years (at least 3 kinds) that all say they are USB, and all illustrated in the photo montage provided here. They would never be considered interchangeable.

Perhaps by “universal”, (homepage of the USB implementers forum) just means that this is another attempt to apply industry standards to an understandably chaotic computer industry. “Universal” invites mental images of “one connector-fits-all”, and we can see that can’t be the case, and it is pretty much impossible given the data needs of different devices. It appears to be an attempt to eliminate or reduce proprietary connectors, which are often made by one manufacturer for one device, and never seen again in the next model year, by any manufacturer. It is a way for a consortium of manufacturers to agree “OK, if we want to advertise USB on our products, we have to pick from this or that set of connectors to sport the USB logo on our package.”

I notice that among many of the predictable companies represented in the consortium (Intel, HP, and a plethora of small corporations and manufacturers numbering in the thousands), Apple is also on the board of directors. Apple, the current reigning king of consumer lock-in has allowed their proprietary connectors to be made by anyone. I bought one at a gas station — it works surprisingly well. It consists of a USB main cord ending with a micro USB connector, over which I can fit a (Apple) lightning connector attachment and have it both ways. I can charge and transfer data to and from my iPad with it.

Again, romantic old me talking here, but if I lose or damage a USB connector, I should be able to find replacement connectors at any electronics shop. In reality though I don’t expect stores to sell all 18 or so different kinds of cable. But I also should not be forced to send off to the manufacturer of my device for one, often at exhorbitant cost, which is what I think the consortium was trying to avoid.

More junk science: the 90-day Accu-weather forecast

Weather forecasting is a black art at the best of times. You can look at the existing weather pattern today, then using probability models based on those weather patterns, forecast tomorrow’s weather. We all know that this only works sometimes over a 5-day period. But now there are people who want to sell services for pinpointing weather conditions on  a daily basis for a 90 day period.

A private company known as AccuWeather is offering the waiting public a 90-day weather forecast, selling to consumers the feeling of control over the distant future. There is not much anyone can say about weather in the long term except that “winter is cold” and “summer is hot”. The rest is all the stuff of farmer’s almanacs and crystal ball gazers. AccuWeather is not telling anyone (at least not yet) how they are able to forecast specific weather conditions on specific days over a 90-day period. But this is what they are doing. So apparently, you can know how to pack your suitcase for that trip to New York 60 days from now, since you will know that on that day there will be 1.5 inches of rain.

This is not that new. AccuWeather already has had a 45-day forecast, and so, according to their press release from April 11, 2016, they are providing a 90-day forecast, driven to “greater challenges” such as this by consumer demand. They claim to be able to forecast on this scale with Superior Accuracy™. (Yes, that phrase is trademarked by AccuWeather).

This forecasting is not endorsed by any existing government weather service, college meteorology department, or university professor that knows anything about forecasting the weather. But I am sure that there are enough gullible people that want that feeling of control who find things like “truth” (the truth that weather is chaotic, and too influenced by “the butterfly effect” to be knowable on this scale) to be inconvenient. AccuWeather probably knows that no one will take this seriously except a small group that just wants that feeling of predictability and control in their lives. And that is what AccuWeather is really selling: your feelings.

Well, actually, it appears you *can* dual-boot into a machine running UEFI

asus maximus vi hero
The mainboard for the Asus Maximus VI Hero. It takes a maximum of 32 GB of RAM, which I maxed out. It even comes with its own “Do Not Disturb” sign which you can hang on your doorknob.

I initially purchased the Maximus Hero because it was priced at a bargain on a Black Friday sale. I heard of UEFI, of Microsoft’s meddling with the specs, and grumblings about how this “security feature”, like many of the “features” Microsoft had the reputation of having anything to do with, was calculated to “securely” lock out any other operating system from using the motherboard. Permanently. It would appear to have brought to bear all of the darkest aspects of consumer lock-in and anti-competitiveness that I could imagine.

Well, I was wrong, and it has been widely known for some time in several websites that the UEFI hurdle has been overcome. It is just that I came upon this on my own while fidgeting with the ASUS UEFI interface, which is where the computer sent me when it couldn’t detect my main hard drive (faulty SATA connector).

Right now, I am running Linux on a machine that has Windows 7 already on it. I am told that UEFI (which stands for “Unified Extensible Firmware Interface”) was conceived to prevent dual-booting, but apparently I have been able to accomplish this feat on my machine.  The motherboard I have is an ASUS Maximus VI Hero, with an extensive UEFI interface. I can see why the BIOS is considered obsolete. The configuration system nearly merits another operating system, being quite detailed and extensive.

Of all the tricked-out features this motherboard comes with, the most important thing for me at the time, was to set up the Secure Boot feature in a way that my machine would not just become a receptacle for GatesWare. Setting Secure Boot to “Other OS” seemed to fit that need, allowing Linux and Windows 7 to play together, and so here I am writing this blog article on Ubuntu 13.10’s copy of Firefox.


About the previous blog entry

That entry the other day was somewhat in the form of a log. A blog entry that is a log. Imagine that.

Earlier this week, I decided to document the rescuing of my TouchSmart TM2 laptop from oblivion. It has nothing except the basic operating system installed, and it seems to give me the BSOD if I do things to it that in the laptop’s opinion is too much for it’s endurance. Such as running Microsoft Update. Such as letting it sit on my desk for a couple of hours, running while I made breakfast or something. I haven’t tried to install a single piece of any other software, just the OS.

I have certainly learned the power of good documentation from this exercise. The BSOD errors were many and varied. I rolled back the installation every time I saw one, or looked up the error code if the blue screen was on long enough. Things just seemed to get worse and worse. At one point, even doing a minimal install gave me a BSOD, and as a result, an incomplete install. At that point, I sent it, still under warranty, to an authorized repair depot, and even told them to try the install themselves (since they seem to stick to their guns about it being a “software issue”, when the only software is coming solely from the factory image). This will cost me $69.00 (plus extra costs to run MS Update), but I am pretty confident that they won’t make it past the SP1 installation, unless they really investigate the hardware beyond disk and memory. If it crashes on me again as a result of sitting on my desk or something, I am going to demand a refund (which I think will be coming from HP, which might be an issue).

I refuse to let go of my palm pilot

The technology of my Tungsten E2 is so…. 2005! Having a seven year-old PDA perhaps makes me a dinosaur in this age of Galaxy IIIs, but I have compelling reasons for sticking with it, and the one at the top of the list is:

It does what I want, and I’m happy with it.

The E2 has a great scheduler, organizer, and address book. I have something against attempts to replace products with new ones when the old ones worked just fine. And I think it’s sad that the tech industry has such a nasty habit of getting rid of decent technologies just because it’s a few years old. The tech industry will continue to play on your fears of “falling behind” or “getting out of date” for as long as they feel they can get away with it, and for as long as you continue to be seduced by their latest gizmo that does the same thing as your last gizmo, except that it has more memory, or a bigger screen, or more eye candy, or something.

One of these days you will slowly realise that the 8 year-old Blackberry still keeps schedules, or that LifeDrive still plays MP3s with the same sound quality, and that to “upload” new music, just replace the SD card. Really, does every freaking device you use actually need an Internet connection? And you realise that when you re-use your old non-Internet enabled devices, you notice that it isn’t killing you. Ain’t life full of surprises?

But another compelling reason for not letting go of my E2 is that it has a stainless steel case at a time when just about all cellphones and PDAs these days are made of plastic and couldn’t survive a 3-foot drop. There was also an aluminum case to house the E2, making everything sturdier, and making idle accidents with the glass screen reduce to near zero. Since I use a backpack, my devices regularly take a lot of punishment, and I really need sturdy cases on everything, and feel paranoid about things like my laptop which has a plastic case and a spandex-like cloth cover.

The cloth cover trivializes the fact that I spent over $2000 on the laptop, and deserve a more protective cover. But the same can be said of all new devices, when what passes for “protection” for a $400 handheld device becomes a soft leather case or rubberized plastic case, with little to no protection for the most vulnerable part, which is the screen.

They say that old devices are often subject to having support removed for them. Well the fate of the E2 is worse: the Palm corportation no longer even exists! I never had time for tech support anyway. Tech support is reportedly often insulting to the user’s intelligence, and staffed by script monkeys who become flummoxed once your problem deviates a centimetre from their prepared resposes. User-driven discussion forums are still the best, and there is a really good one for Palm devices which still exists, which is run by Hewlett-Packard. I consider that a kind gesture for a large corporation such as them, even though all they are really doing is offering a web portal for users like myself to discuss their issues, and letting the site essentially maintain itself. But even then, they didn’t have to do that, so kudos to them.

Rewriting history: Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher is younger and prettier in this photo than I remember her back in 1981...Hmm...

Today, news about the release of “secret” documents relating to the Margaret Thatcher government circa 1981 have been making the rounds in the news, and a CBC webpage has made a report that would claim to rip the lid off these secret documents.

Well, nothing of importance seems to have come out of this, if you read all the way to the bottom. Although it crosses my mind that while the riots were happening, weren’t we all awash in the media sentiment surrounding the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana? Aw, maybe I’m just being crumudgeonly.

We are told that the release of these secret documents tells us that Thatcher never ceases to “fascinate” us; although for anyone who lived through the rise of neo-conservatism in the early 80s found little of this surprising or even worthy of reporting. Yes, the Canadian (Mulroney), American (Regan), and British (Thatcher) governments moved hell and earth to make sure that their policies were rammed through their respective houses of government, while firing, reassigning, or rebuffing anyone that stood in their way; and while ignoring the ensuing rise in unemployment, debt, or any other social ill that resulted.

The “secret” documents, though inconsequential, seemed to be well-timed to the release of a new play about Thatcher to be premiered in London, starring Meryl Streep. The photo posted on the CBC website was not of Thatcher, but of Streep playing Thatcher. Their caption did not remark on this, but instead carried on the discussion about Thatcher as if this photo was really of her. Maybe it was CBC incompetence, but no. The photo and article were both from the AP newswire, offered without editing or change by the CBC. The CBC did, however, have the good sense to offer a video news report that showed a mix of Streep and Thatcher ’81 in the same report, with at least some clarity as to which was which.

Spammers R Us

Here is the latest list of the desperation and silliness displayed by spammers to my inbox these days:

  • Stop the Ageing Clock
  • Raise Your Courage and Confidence in Public
  • Andrea sent you an invitation to
  • Fantastic Offer On A Mercedes C180 CGI
  • Have You Ever Been Treated Like A Slime Ball Sales Person?
  • hello
  • Hello
  • hello my friend help me
  • Hello Sir.
  • Hello,
  • HI
  • hi
  • hiro
  • Register and be entered to win cars, trips, homes and discounts … Good Luck
  • Remain bless in the Lord.
  • This house has a huge garage for you (try 20 cars)
  • Trade your city
  • Burdens are Pumping Up the Volume!
  • 7 Reasons to Keep Jesus out of His Church
  • Another future on the side
  • Are you looking for additional income online?
  • Are you serious about making money?
  • Are you tense?
  • Are you a music producer?
  • bitchkitty
  • Bring funk to your lineup
  • Caffeine Extract removes Cellulite
  • Can the church save Occupy Wall Street?
  • Dangerous Abuse of Bible Translations
  • Do you need any kind of loan?
  • Final week for The Hit Play God of Carnage
  • I am Mrs Bolten, diagnosed of cancer,I DONATE USD$10 Million to YOU
  • I thought you loved me – and you?
  • I write this email to you on my sick bed
  • Important Dawnload
  • Is Your Eye Care Practice Missing Something?
  • extremely urgent. we cannot change the deadline
  • we have restricted access to your account
  • We received your tax return
  • Where is my man?
  • Will Obama stop this assault on God’s creation?
  • How would you like to have your ad on 2 Million Websites?