Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Another week another Apple problem

Just have to share as a follow up to my latest post on not liking Macs. Yesterday my Mac broke down again. This time it unfortunately seems like it wasn't something easy that they could fix in the store.

Last time I was actually quite impressed by the couple of hours of turnaround that the Apple Store had to fix it. This was about what I expected from a major computer manufacturer and definately in line with what you get from for instance Lenovo or Dell.

This time around I was not that lucky and I was told they needed to ship the computer off to a separate repair facility and that it would take 1.5 to 2 weeks. This brings the level of service down to around what I got when I bought a laptop from Discount Laptops. They were great value, but as always (as long as you don't buy Apple) you get what you pay for.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why I hate Mac & OSX

I already wrote one article on why I don't like Mac computers or the OSX operating system. However, the last one was written before I had really used it that much. I have now been forced to use a Mac computer quite a lot because the iPhone SDK is only available for Mac computers and I have been playing around with that a lot lately.

The computer I have been using is a Macbook Air, which is supposedly pretty much a top of the line model when it comes to laptops. When I got it I got a lot of excited Mac users telling me to just give it a few weeks and I would come to love it. It's now been about 5 months and I can with certainty say that it is definitely the worst computer I've owned in the last couple of years. So here goes explaining why.


First of all the most obvious flaw which is the track pad with just one button. It baffles me how anybody could be so stupid that when they had designed an operating system such as OSX which is so obviously made for two mouse buttons and then build the computers with just one button. With that I mean that there are tons of functionality in every application you can think of that is only accessible through the CTRL+Click context menu. On desktops you at least have an option to enable two mouse buttons, but it seems on laptops you have no such luck.

Next thing that annoys me immensely is that Apple have removed a bunch of very useful keys from the keyboard. The ones most obvious to me is PageUp, PageDown, Home and End. All keys which you as a coder use a lot. Granted I have the really small laptop, but even the 17" Macbook Pro still doesn't have those keys.

That brings me to the other problem with the keyboard. Mac computers have no less than 5 modifier keys. Granted Windows machine have basically the same set of modifier keys. The difference is that on Windows two of them are use very sparingly. On Mac you use all 5 modifier keys and a dizzying array of combinations. They have also tied up all the function keys with rarely used OS functionality so that when you are in X-Code for instance instead of using something easy like F8 for step you are forced to resort to Command+Shift+O.

Lets move on to the screen which compared to what I am used to really sucks. The resolution is simply atrocious. True I opted for the smallest version of laptop and I expect a smaller resolution, but the problem applies to all the models of their laptop line. If you go with something else than Mac you can get 1920x1280 resolution on a 15.4" screen but with Mac you need to go all the way to the ridiculously sized 17" model to get the screen size.

Finally lets go on to build quality. You would think that since Apple computers are so much more expensive than their PC counterparts you would get good build quality. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case. My Air broke within about one month which is a record even for me. Granted fixing it was easy and fast, but that is usually the case with any named brand as long as you go for the on-site warranty.


I usually don't have a big problem moving between different computer platforms. I've been on Gnome, KDE most kinds of Windows and even though I might have grumbled in a few weeks I'm usually OK with it. Not so with OSX, it is simply too badly designed for me to get used to.

First of all the whole application/window separation where each application can have zero or more windows. You use one keyboard combination to switch between windows and one keyboard combination to switch between windows within the application. You also have a menu bar that isn't attached to the windows they are attached to. This setup might be acceptable for a non power user which only uses a web browser or one application doing a specific task. For a software developer it sucks. When you develop something in X-Code you will always have one editor window, one debugger console, one document window within that application. Then you have one application for the interface designer and finally one window for the iPhone simulator. So whenever you are going to another window you have to figure out which application you need first and then switch to the correct window. In Windows or Linux you have one list with all your windows and navigation is just much faster and more convenient.

Secondly also in regards to window handling is the fact that you can't maximize windows. All window systems I've seen (Including the ones that predate the original Mac OS) all have a maximize button and I can't imagine who decided that you didn't need that. There is an "optimize size" button, but for some reason the optimal size for a web browser for instance is not the whole screen.

You'd think with it's much touted BSD roots that OSX would play nice with X-Windows applications from Linux and the like. For some reason this is not the case. GIMP and Blender for instance works much worse on OSX than they do on Windows. In Blender you have weird painting artifacts and in GIMP there is a problem that whenever you click in another window you have to click twice for the click to be recognized.

Sort of incidental, but I just installed Snow Leopard yesterday and their progress meter is if possible even more inaccurate than the Microsoft one when installing Windows. During the period of 1 hour it went from 42 minutes remaining to 39 minutes remaining. After that I went out to a pub and didn't get back until 4 hours later and then it was actually finished.

Since what I do on the Mac is software development it is inevitable to compare X-Code with Visual Studio (And also Eclipse, but they are pretty similar so I will stick with Visual Studio).

  • In Visual Studio you have everything you need in one easy to access window and it changes the layout automatically to include stuff you might need through different stages of the development cycle. In X-Code everything is spread out in a gazillion different windows and if you want to look at different things when coding and debugging it's up to you to move stuff around.
  • X-Code doesn't remember watches between different debug sessions. Debugging anything complex is ridiculously complicated. The only way that works kind of OK is the text based GDB prompt.
  • As far as I have managed to figure out you can't inspect the contents of an array at all without looking at the individual items.
  • Very mouse centric in it's user interface which is something you strive to avoid when working with code. I still haven't figured out which keyboard combination switches the file you look at in the editor without using the mouse.
  • X-Code is incredibly buggy (Even compared to Visual Studio). I have to restart it and even the entire computer all the time when it stops working (Especially the debugger).


Just have to write a little bit about Apple's support. I've actually really tried to figure out how to use the Mac in a reasonable way so I have been visiting the incredibly ineptly named "Genius Bar" in the Apple Store a bunch of times and have also had some contact with support in regards to their developer program. Granted, when my computer was actually broken they did fix it pretty fast and hassle free but apart from that their support sucks!

  • I asked them about how you maximize a window and a guy seriously told me that yes, you can do that. No problem and then showed me how to use the mouse to resize the window to cover the entire screen.
  • When I was asking them about if there was a laptop with a PageUp/PageDown key they asked me why in gods name I needed to do that (Which is funny because their desktop keyboard still have the keys)?
  • It took the apple developer program almost 3 months to approve my membership. The problem was that instead of using the phone number I provided in my application to call me back they looked it up at PRV (The official records agency in Sweden) and found another phone number and used that to try to contact me. The problem is that that phone number has not been connected for over 5 years now. And with that they stopped and didn't even try the number I actually provided in the application. Even better is that though I contacted them several times through email all I got back was "in progress of reviewing your application" and not a peep about they not being able to get hold of me. Not until a friend of mine provided me with a customer support phone number (Which isn't listed on their web site) and a 30 minute yelling match with the customer service representative did they agree to try a working number.
  • It's not been over 3 weeks for Apple to approve my first application submission. Which incidentally is a lot longer than it took to write the app.
  • Apple is the only company I know of in the US who require a signature to their packages when you order something from their website. You can get around it by signing a waiver, but that requires me to have a printer. You'd think Apply would assume people having a job and not being able to sign for packages in the middle of the day. I don't why they insist on this, I've had much more expensive stuff delivered without signatures from other companies.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Having a working democracy

Most people would probably say that having free elections where everyone is allowed to run and everybody (Within reason) is allowed to vote and that each vote should count more or less the same.

I've been thinking a bit about this and I think there is one more thing missing from the list above and that is that you need to have more than one plausible choice. There has to be a working opposition. When a country has a working opposition that implies that power will need to transfer every once in a while between the different available choices.

Looking at it through those eyes the democratic countries of the world all of a sudden becomes a lot less. For instance Japan has definitely never had a working democracy. Although they might actually be joining the club with the upcoming election where for the first time ever the ruling party is looking like it will be voted out of power (Not counting a brief one year stint where the opposition was in power several decades ago). Most countries of Western Europe pass with flying colors.

One country which is dangerously close to failing this test though is the United States of America. On the local level it definitely has a great working democracy when it comes to electing public officials, almost to the point of it being stupid what an amazing amount of people have to run for their seats (Seriously why do you have elections for judges, would you not want the most qualified for that job instead of the most popular candidate). However on the national stage you have only two even plausible parties. Both of which is so ridiculously similar in their policies that it is very hard to tell them apart. For instance can someone explain the difference between a Fiscal Conservative Democrat and a Compassionate Conservative? I sure can't do it even though I like to think I am pretty interested in politics.

That's why it's so funny to me to look at US news outlets completely vilifying the "other side" even though to me they basically want exactly the same thing. I think this is also why news in the US has a tendency to get bogged down in such an amazing amount of inconsequential nonsense instead of actually reporting issues. There is really very little to report where it comes to issues because everybody in politics basically agrees on the big picture. It's also probably why the most stupid fringe issues have a tendency to take such a center stage in a lot of elections (Gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research springs to mind), simply because that's the only issues that the candidates disagree on.

It would be great if instead of Democrats and Republicans we could have a couple of more parties that actually had some beliefs except just getting elected. For instance it would be very easy to split the republicans into fiscal conservatives and moral conservatives. Same thing with the democrats it seems very easy to divide them into liberals (Not the US definition of the term, but as in following liberalist ideals) and socialists (The people now called left wing liberals here).

The problem with the US democracy is that every single seat is a winner take all contest which means that anything less than 50% will loose which means that for the foreseeable future until the US changes its constitution it will probably not have a great working democracy because everybody who wants to get elected have to place their feet firmly in the middle of the trough to have a chance and that's why it is so crowded there now here. I realize that there really isn't any way of getting around this issue for presidential (And governor elections as well). But for the legislative assemblies, especially the house of representatives I see no problem with having fractional elections from each state (They do it in the European Parliament).

I don't see this happening anytime soon, but one can always hope that at some point we could get a working democracy here in the United States too at some point.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Culture, Corporations and Big Brother

There are a lot of discussion in Sweden right now about how the internet in general and peer to peer networking in particular effects the production of culture. There are two things that make this especially current in Sweden right now. The first is the trial against The Pirate Bay (TPB) which is probably the biggest bit-torrent tracker in the world. The second is a new law called IPRED which is a law based on a new EU directive to help the music and film business fighting piracy online.

I'm not going to go that much into the trial against TPB except to note that it is weird how one of the biggest police actions in modern time is done against a handful of people doing something that isn't entirely obviously illegal (At least under Swedish law). The IPRED directive though is dangerous because it mandates that the producers of culture (Read MPAA, RIAA and their equivalents) can demand the identity of IP addresses directly from ISP:s instead of as now needing to go through the police. The weird thing is that in Sweden (And soon I assume the rest of the EU will follow) this means that the record industry now has better legal means than the actual police to get this information. For police to be able to get the identity of an IP number requires that there is a suspicion of a crime punishable by at least 2 years in prison (And fortunately sharing copyrighted material is not that bad yet). The record industry now has no such requirement. I find it very disturbing that the corporations now have better legal tools to dig into my personal life than the government. I generally don't trust the government, but I trust corporations even less.

In the discussion about this I keep hearing that without changes like these to protect copyright the entire industry based on it will collapse. And here is the key point I want to make. Why is this necessarily a bad thing? The industry tries to make this out as culture will go away if they are not around to distribute it. I hold that this is completely false. The people who are actually producing this will still do fine. Musicians will still do music. And they will still be able to live from it.

Imagine a world where musicians made about as much of the total profit selling their music as software developers do when selling their software. That world is here today with the internet. When you sell software online the processing of the sale usually costs around 10% in fees. From what I've read normally a musician today will get around 10% of the total proceeds of their music when under a recording contract. A good site selling music for around $1 to $2 a record or 10 to 20 cents a song would then actually produce about as much income for the musician per sold record or song as they do today charging 10 times as much when the music is distributed through the recording industry. Even weirder is that for some reason when the music is distributed digitally artists get even less than when a regular CD is sold. I have no idea why since the cost of distributing music digitally should be very close to zero when the infrastructure is created.

Other types of culture are not affected at all. Almost all forms of art still requires to be experienced first hand to really enjoy it (Think paintings and statues). Books are still nicer to experience flipping through the dead tree version even though technology is making inroads here with readers like The Kindle. But they are still way to expensive and the selection of books to read on them too limited.

The only industry that I think is pretty much doomed to fail is the movie industry. The problem is that you usually only see a movie once so that if you download a movie and watch it illegally (Perhaps because it is available sooner that way) the chance of you paying any way for it is pretty much zero. I foresee this industry basically heading towards the TV movie format where it will be financed by commercials or subscriptions.

My point is that I have a lot of friends who are both musicians and artists and I am pretty sure that they would all still keep doing their art (Whether it be music, painting or sculpting) regardless of if they would get paid for it. So I understand how the music industry is fighting for it's survival, but we must not confuse the music industry with the actual creation of music. Because the actual creation of music was around long before the music industry was created and it will be around long after the music industry is gone.

Copyright was originally created so that artists would be able to live off their work so that they could concentrate on their art and thus all of society would gain from it. That is a laudable goal, however it has very little to do with what copyright has turned into in modern times where copyright is retained 75 years after the death of the artists. What started out as a means to enrich the culture of our society has now become a tool to stifle it. It is depressing how little of the cultural work of the 20th and 21st century that has passed into the public domain due to the changes in copyright law. I get very upset that we are now signing away our privacy at the bidding of an industry that in my opinion is already doomed regardless and which have already robbed society as a whole of so much.

We have already lost our privacy to the government in the war against terror, we should not lose it to corporations as well.

PS. The conspiracy theorist in me can't help to note that the coverage of the voting on the IPRED law would have been a lot better if media hadn't been swamped with the coverage of the engagement of the crown princess of Sweden which was announced the day before the vote. DS

Epitet of a diet

Some of you might know that I was diagnosed with high cholesterol about 6 months ago when I for the first time since I joined the military (Which was in 1991). I have to admit that I was actually pleasantly surprised that my doctor suggested that I would try first with changing my diet to try to fix it. My impression of the US medical culture has been that if there is a pill to fix it that is what you reach for first.

So I met up with a dietitian that described which diet I was supposed to follow. The first question pretty much everyone has asked about it is what it is called, and I honestly don't know the name of it but it seems to be pretty similar to the GI diet. Interestingly enough I was not supposed to lose weight with the diet I got, instead it was intended to increase my metabolism which should then lower my Cholesterol. In combination with the diet I was also supposed to increase my exercise. Not much though, I was already pretty good on that account.

Also in the diet was the notion that I had to eat at least once every 3 hours. To be honest I have never eaten as much as I did during this diet in my entire life. It was actually pretty weird to just never be hungry, to the point where I started missing it. I also needed to make sure I drank a lot of water. Actually a ridiculous amount of water. About a gallon a day in fact. Have to admit I hated running to the bathroom all the time. I also almost completely stopped drinking during this period (Alcohol, and beer in particular apparently has a lot of carbohydrates in it). I did end up drinking at three parties that were already planned before the diet started though.

So how did it all work out. I started out with a total cholesterol of 265 and LDL (Bad cholesterol) at 198. After the diet at which point I had also for some reason lost almost 5kg (10 pounds) I had another cholesterol test. I just recently finally learned the result of the test and my new total cholesterol is now 158 and the LDL is 101. According to this cholesterol range chart I went from High to Very Good.

Of course, after the diet was over I went home to Sweden and ate like a total pig. You just have to have a lot of pizza and Sibylla burgers when you are home there. Now I intend to settle down to somewhere in the middle between the diet and my normal life and hopefully that way still live great and have a good cholesterol level.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Went to Chicago for a weekend

I went to Chicago for a weekend in January taking a short break from my Sweden trip. It might seem weird to some of you but the reason was pretty simple. I met a new girl right before I left and it just seemed like seven weeks was a little bit too long. So we discussed it and met somewhere in the middle (Actually Newfoundland would be in the middle, but none of us wanted to go there).

This article was supposed to be longer, but I apparently forgot to write it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Not the end of the world

I wish people who didn't know what they were talking about would just shut up about Large Hadron Collider (LHC) going to be the end of the world. One of the latest is from a fairly believable source Oxford University who published this study. The argument is basically that since they were able to find errors in the calculations they've done to reassure us how can we possibly trust anything the people from LHC says.

Here is the scoop though, everybody can just chill. The reason for this is that the energies that shows up when using the LHC exists in the natural universe. They aren't common, or speaking quantum speak they are very improbable. However, if you take the volume of the Earth and a couple of eons they will have occurred tons of times during our history. And if all it took were a couple of freak super heavy particles to be created to swallow up a body like the earth there wouldn't be anything left but black holes anywhere in the universe.

So basically, since we are here now, there isn't anything to worry about with the LHC. All it is doing is making events that occur naturally (even though very rarely) occur in a more predictable fashion so that they can be more easily studied.

The only argument against the LHC I can think of that actually have some merit is if it is worth the cost. I think that in the long run it probably is, a lot of basic research on particle physics seemed pretty useless at the time it was done and is now providing us such neat things as faster computers, faster networks and more energy efficient technology.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Can we? Are you sure?

Watching the inauguration of Obama earlier this week and the near hysteria that seems to surround everything he does and says these days I can't help but think that most people who like him are in for a huge disappointment. Don't get me wrong, I like Obama. I also think from what I've seem so far of what he has done since getting elected he is showing promise of becoming a great president too. The problem is just that it seems that expectations of what he can accomplish are just completely out of proportion.

The amount of inertia in the whole Washington establishment is just too big for any one man to make that much of a difference. Just look at the most recent election to the senate where in two cases only by the narrowest of margins two convicted felons just barely were not reelected (One republican and one democrat). How can a body so badly out of order that you can almost coast to reelection even when you have been proven to be corrupt be expected to get anything sensible done. On that note I find it ironic that in most states you are not allowed to vote when you are a convicted felon, but apparently there is no problem to run for office.

There is also way to much money being spent on legislation everywhere in the US. Lets face it special interests are the ones who set the legislative agenda. The line "By the people for the people" is just a bad joke these days. I don't really have any good way of solving the problem though. I would love it if they passed a law that only allowed people to donate to political campaigns (No corporations), but since the people who are getting rich from the systems are the ones that need to abolish it this change will probably never happen.

There are a few things things that I do think Obama can probably fix pretty fast though. For instance the most egregious violations of human rights and the constitution can probably be stopped pretty fast (Guantanamo Bay and large scale domestic wiretapping for instance). I also think the time might have come for public health care in some sort. I don't think there is going to be any major shift in how stuff gets done (Or not done) in Washington though unfortunately.

Can you prove me wrong?


First brush with Mac OS X

The Apple juggernaut seems unstoppable these days and where ever I turn I seem to run into people asking me why I'm not running a Mac. That said a few days ago I had the opportunity to work for a little bit with an iMac by myself. I had a very simple task at hand. I needed to print a couple of flight itineraries that I had in an web mail account. Here are my impressions that I came away with.

First of all there is that whole bull shit mantra that "Mac always works". First Firefox locked up on me within 5 minutes and then Safari locked up after a little while after that. My problem is that I don't know how to kill an app on OS X so after the last of them locked up I was effectively done. I have way better mileage with browsing on Windows than this regardless if I use Firefox, IE or Chrome.

I really hate the whole menu at the top of the screen thing they have going on Mac. I'm sure in some ways you probably get used to it, but I also dislike it on a philosophical level. The problem with it is as your screen starts to fill up with documents it is very disconcerting to have the menu end up sometimes far from your actual document. I also dislike the fact that the menu has a mixture of global and application items. I also don't like the buttons on the left hand side of the window without icons in them. I'm sure you learn this, but which of red, green and yellow means maximize window. Perhaps it's me, but it just isn't obvious in my mind.

Also very annoying is that Mac doesn't remember your last used print settings. Every time I tried to print something the page size was reset to a CD sleeve (Which I'm sure is something that Johansson had set up somewhere). On any other modern OS the print dialog simply remembers what the last settings you entered in the print dialog was.

Then there is the issue with the mouse. I can see that one mouse button can be easier to use for a novice. But the way they have apparently done it on an iMac is that it looks like there is only one button, but you can still press it as a right and left mouse button (And have different actions occur). That is just plain retarded, and how can that possibly be construed as simpler?

Also, during the entire time I was using the computer there was also this weird quiet chirping sound coming from it. I assumed that it had to do with IM or something like that. However when I asked him about it he didn't know either, but he guessed it was a problem with having too many USB devices connected to the computer. User friendly indeed!

Finally I have the number one gripe with this whole mess. The keyboard layout! What the hell kind of idiot decided that the Swedish layout of the keyboard shouldn't match what is actually printed on the keys (It was a Swedish keyboard)? I could never figure out how you got a '@' character on the Swedish keyboard. It was printed as being on the equivalent of AltGR+'2' which is the same as a "normal" keyboard. However, that didn't work. In the end I had to switch to an English layout for this one character. I later learned from Johansson learned that it was located on something like AltGR+'รค'.

Before I did this I had basically always thought Mac's had kind of cool hardware (Off course except for the glide point which would just have to go) and the slick UI based off of a unix kernel appealed to me too and that I would probably have liked running it as long as I could for work. Now I know not to believe the hype and when I don't have to run Windows anymore I'll be switching back to Linux.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You now need to pre-apply for a Visa when travelling to the USA

I got a slight shock today as I read online that starting today new rules apply to traveling to the US. According to the new rules if you intend to go to the US under the "Visa Waiver" program you now have to apply before hand at least 72 hours prior to departure (And up to 2 years).

You apply by going to this US Customs & Border Protection site. If for some reason you are denied you then need to apply for a normal Visa at the US Embassy.

The reason why I was so shocked when reading this is that it is today around 40 hours left until I am about to board a flight to the US and this was the first time I've heard about it (You would think that the airline would have told you about it). Fortunately though after a frantic call to the US embassy here in Stockholm I was assured that since I have a work visa this doesn't apply to me.

All you people planning on coming to visit though, don't forget to register in advance.