Monday, November 23, 2009

Final Report: G1 versus iPhone

This will likely be my final blog about the G1; I'm enjoying the thing and it does the job, but it's not exactly an exciting device in itself.

eReader has released a client for their ebook service; it's actually my favorite and now I'm happily reading "The Golden Compass" on the G1.

It is pretty noisy; the noise floor when listening to music is barely tolerable, although the music itself seems to sound pretty good. They must have used a really cheap D/A converter in this thing. I bought a pair of Skullcandy earbuds to use with it, and they work and feel fine.

Rooting the G1 was initially pretty scary, but now that it's done it's a cakewalk. I'm using the images from ; I can now tether with the phone and can use my SD card for application storage by just putting a Linux-compatible (ext2, 3 or 4) partition on the card after the FAT32 partition. I can do a quick backup of my currently running system to the SD card at any time using Nandroid (which comes with the image) so trying new versions isn't a problem; I can always revert the phone.

Salling Media Sync does quite a good job of syncing my phone with iTunes. I'd rather give iTunes a pass altogether, but for now I need it. Hoping Banshee will work on the Mac soon.

In conclusion, the G1 is doing the job for me. I'm happy with the switch.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Why I stopped using the iPhone

I recently switched from an iPhone 3G on AT&T to a T-Mobile G1 running Google's Android. There were several reasons for this:

1. I'm not very impressed with AT&T's 3G service. I've had a lot of problems with it; I've had to call AT&T 3 times in the last year to report bad 3G performance at my work place. In every case it was a problem on their end, but I had to fight my way through probably 45 minutes to 2 hours of reboots and network settings resets before I could convince them of this. Also, AT&T's service is quite a bit more expensive than T-Mobile's or Sprint's. But this is the least important of my concerns.

2. The iPhone hardware is very closed. You can't replace the battery yourself, you can't use your own memory card. It seems like planned obsolescence to me. However, given the beauty of the iPhone hardware, this isn't the major concern either.

3. Apple's hamfisted control of their software was really pissing me off. If I want a better mp3 player than iTunes I should damn well be able to pay for it and get it, not be stopped by app store policies against apps that "duplicate" functionality.

4. The iPhone OS is very unsophisticated. Looks kinda pretty, right? But the paradigm is pretty much Windows 3.1; colored icons in neat rows which you have very little control over.

Worse, no multitasking. Frankly, I think this is unforgivable. The machine is a computer running UNIX, for God's sake. And why can't I use a USB or wireless keyboard with the iPhone? And why can't I mount the phone's storage on a computer and store some documents to carry around with me? And why can't I play OGG or FLAC files? Or videos other than a very narrow range of MPEG 4 types?

5. The OS issues in item 4 could be easily solved by third party developers, and in fact, they mostly have been. But ... Apple doesn't want you to be able to make changes to the low-level OS, however much you want them, and however much you have paid for the damn phone. Some long-suffering developers have figured out various clumsy solutions to get around this, but it's difficult to do, and every time they work out a way to do it, Apple comes up with a "fix" that breaks it. It got to be really painful to "jailbreak" the phone over and over again.

Screw that.

Android has it's own problems, and is not as slick as the iPhone OS yet (I hesitate to call the iPhone OS "MacOSX" when it can't even multitask!). But Google and the Open Handset Alliance are not nearly as closed to third-party development at the OS level as Apple is, and modified OS installs are easily available. And updates to the OS are not going to cause me to have to wipe my phone and start over every time.

Also, switching to T-Mobile is an investment in both money (cheaper) and freedom, since T-Mobile's 3G implementation is more compatible with European standards than AT&Ts. I'll have more options in phones, in other words. Kinda lusting after the Nokia N900, to tell the truth, which will run 100% on T-Mobile.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Debt is not an evil, it is a tool.

With a chainsaw, you might cut your own hand off. You also can cut some firewood.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Dan!

Just saw Steely Dan in San Francisco, with my long time friend and music fanatic Jim Pire. They performed the entire "Royal Scam" album plus some favorites at the end. The show was great! Fagin and Becker were both lively and fun; Fagin seemed to be very excited and rolled around on his piano bench, looking something like an old grey Stevie Wonder.

At one point, during a between-song lull, someone called out "Freebird" and Fagin called him an asshole, which certainly seemed like a reasonable thing to say in context.

The backup band was wonderful. The lead guitar player knew all the famous licks perfectly, and his own improvs were tasty and very much too the point. The drummer was strong, always on the beat and understated except where, such as during the solo in "Aja", he needed to be showy. And the trombone player, of all people, really got people going whenever he had a solo. The three female backup singers sang strongly and got their own solo vocals, taking the normally male leads in "Dirty Work".

Very cool the hear the entire album; it was played strongly and with great fidelity to the original. All except for "Everything You Did", which was always the weakest song on the album. Evidently "The Dan" felt so too, and gave the song sort of an island beat, which certainly made it a bit more pleasant to listen to.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

40th Anniversary Edition of Red by King Crimson

I am deeply enjoying the experience of listening to the 40th anniversary edition of Red, by King Crimson, one of my top 10 albums of all time.

Much as i loved the original, I had two complaints:

1. The title track was flat sounding, like they recorded it in a fairly flat sounding room and did nothing to liven it up.

Well, this problem is fixed handily in the 5.1 mix; separation increases the fidelity of each instrument and the performance comes to life in a way that needs to be heard.

2. Providence, the first song on side two, was long and unlistenable. It was certainly unlistenable to me; I wanted more pounding, screeching prog rock and providence was several (too many) minutes of unnecessary noodling to my ears.

But in the 5.1 mix the clarity of each instrument is increased, and somehow the creepiness of the improvised, "concrete" performance is emphasized to the point where it becomes a new treasure, to me, and that means a big piece of this already wonderful album is now accessible to me for the first time. Bravo, gentlemen.

It also contains a CD version, versions in 96Khz 24-bit stereo, several unreleased tracks of varying interest, and some VERY well recorded videos from French television of what evidently seems to the be "Starless and Bible Black" era band performing songs like Lament and LTIA pt II, and very well.

I give it a good *****, it's wonderful, and certainly not more expensive than it needs to be.

Friday, October 09, 2009

More G1 Impressions

I bought a white phone; why are the headphone and adapter cables black? Ick.

I thought it would be nice having a hardware camera button, but pressing it moves the phone, making photos more blurry. In broad daylight it'll probably be more useful.

The included headphones are comfortable enough, but pretty much unusable on my bicycle as they seem to amplify the noise of air rushing by my ears.

The trackball is not all that accurate, but with that and the keyboard I don't accumulate fingerprints on the screen nearly as quickly as on the iPhone.

Ah, multi-tasking. How is it the iPhone runs MacOSX but can only run one app at a time? Works great on the G1.

The software keyboard is comparable to the iPhones, if not quite as accurate. But, I have a G1, I don't need to use the software keyboard if I don't want to. I have a choice. Yay.

The software in the Android Market is definitely more crude than the iPhone stuff, on average. However, except for commercial stuff such as ebook and audible apps, I've been able to find apps to do everything I used to do in the iPhone and do it well. For similar money or for free. I'm impressed.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

An Open Letter to Apple

Dear Steve:

Re Apple Lossless versus FLAC: screw you guys. Really.

Love, Hugh

Sunday, October 04, 2009

T-Mobile G1 versus iPhone 3G, first impressions

So I'm going to migrate off of iPhone 3G/AT&T (that's a subject for a different blog entry). 2 days ago I purchased a T-Mobile G1 phone and the associated phone and data plans. This entry is going to give my first impressions of the new phone and compare it with the iPhone 3G.

The G1 is definitely a sidegrade; there are better iPhones and Android phones available now. However, the G1 is probably a placeholder until I get a better phone (the Nokia N900 might eventually fill the bill), and many new Android phones are on their way, so I went with a lower priced option (with a physical keyboard).

First off, the G1 has already become a much better phone in the two days since I bought it. That's because, overnight, it upgraded itself from firmware version 1.1 to 1.6, without which it frankly wasn't really on the playing field with the iPhone. It makes a big difference, in mostly small ways; for instance, the camera, nothing to write home about even now, was pretty much unusable before the upgrade, and it can now shoot video. Also, several applications that I tried out in the store (on demo phones with higher firmare versions than mine) were not available before the upgrade. There was no software keyboard until the upgrade. But now, it's a pretty damn good smartphone.

When you look at pictures of the phones the G1 looks much larger, but it really isn't. It's X and Y sizes are about identical to the iPhone and it's Z axis is as much deeper as you'd expect from having a physical keyboard available. With the keyboard the G1 doesn't feel quite as solid as the iPhone, but the keyboard foldout mechanism itself seems about as robust as it could be. It feels damn good, really. All other things being equal, they physical keyboard adds a lot to the phone; using an SSH terminal emulator is a piece of cake now, and typing in notes is much more pleasant than on the iPhone.

The screens are about the same size, and the colors seem good on both. Can't complain about the new one.

The lack of a dedicated analog headphone jack on the G1 is not a problem as long as I have the included dongle. I'm sure I'll feel differently when I misplace it for the first time ;)

Battery life before the upgrade was poor; now it's fair, or actually pretty close to the iPhone. I can deal with it, but a better battery would have been nice on both phones.

The web browser seems similar on both phones, which makes sense since they are both based on Webkit. I don't see much difference between them, although it is very nice to be able to type in URLs with the physical keyboard.

It's very nice to be able mount the G1's formatted smart card on my Mac and copy files to it directly.

This is a very tentative impression, but I think the phone service quality is a little better on the G1. People I talked to long distance sounded better to me than they do on the iPhone, and the people I talked to thought my own voice was very clear.

At this point, there's just not that much difference between the two hardware platforms for me. The difference is mainly in the software. I've been able to find a decent SSH client for the G1, and there's a Facebook client, but it's not nearly as powerful as Facebook on the iPhone (yet). But I haven't been able to find a good book-reading piece of software for the G1 yet, similar to the eReader or Kindle apps. However, I know eReader is working on a client for their ebooks for the G1 which should come out this year. I certainly hope there will be Kindle app on G1; the G1 uses the Amazon MP3 store as their version of iTunes, it makes sense that they might also collaborate on ebook sales, but I haven't even heard any rumors about them doing it.

The point being, the Android App Market is not nearly as well stocked at the iPhone's, but it it is still far more open, and now that Android phones are proliferating I think this will change; I think it may be time for Apple to rethink it's really restrictive app store policies. But I'm not holding my breath.

More later.

I miss my little girl cat.

I miss my Olive. She was a good girl.

Olive, I tried to give you as good a life as possible. Not a life of luxury and apathy, but one of interest and inclusion. The goal was that you would not become one of those fat, uninterested cats that everyone ignores in the back of their houses, with kitty-alzheimer's. I did what I could to keep your life interesting, in the limits of our home and lifestyle and what your Mom and I could stand to do.

We put up with your endless chatter and energy, your jealousy and your very low sense of humor, your gastric problems. We played with you when we didn't feel like it, protected you from psycho-cat as much as we could, and I took you as far afield as you would go.

It was so worth it; we got back endless playfulness, intelligence and love. And even though you were afraid of psycho-cat, you still loved her; she was like an alcoholic mother, dangerous and annoying, but still Mom.

I think we did what we could for you, and you had a good life. This takes some of the sharpness out of the pain of losing you, but we still miss you.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Baader Meinhoff Complex (Movie)

Fascinating stuff. Strangely, I first came across a reference to Baader-Meinhoff in a Monty Python book and I've always wanted to know more about it; we in the US are taught so little about about European history after WWII (or before WWI for that matter).

The actors and characters in the movie are all well played, especially Martina Gedeck as Ulrike Meinhof and Johanna Wokalek as Gudrun Ensslin. The characters are portrayed as interesting, complex people and shown with little sympathy except for Meinhoff, an extreme left-wing journalist who is seduced by the thought of taking action for her beliefs and gives up her young twin daughters for the cause (according to the film, she almost has them sent to a Jordanian orphanage before they are rescued by her ex-husband).

The film also strongly shows the utter lunacy of the position of some current right wing commentators that Nazi Germany was some kind of "socialist" state (evidently because the word "socialist" is in the name of the party) when the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the movement they were part of (which per the movie evidently had strong sympathy from the German public) was clearly a reaction to the corporatism and "my country right or wrong" attitudes of the Facist Nazis and the population that supported them. Pull the other one, gentlemen and ladies.

Highly recommended, though if you are seeing it at the theater in Berkeley you might want to check and see if their air conditioning is working again; 2 1/2 hours of violence in a hot, dark room got a little bit unpleasant ;)

Sunday, August 16, 2009


A few months ago I went down to the jacuzzi to sooth my aching back. I was startled to hear beautiful, ethereal music coming out of it. A couple of (young) teenage girls were singing a song in harmony, with a strong, beautiful melody and unisons, thirds, fifths and sixths weaving in and out, evidently making use of the natural reverb of the concrete and tile. I couldn't quite make out the words. It was exquisite. They stopped as soon as they saw me, unfortunately. I've never heard anything quite like it again.

Turns out it was a Beyonce song, something I wouldn't spend two seconds on if I heard it on the radio.

Context is important.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Let Us consider Heinlein again ...

I'm on a SF kick these days. I sorely miss Heinlein. Of these great 40s Sci-Fi writers (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Bester), Heinlein and Bester were as smart as any of them but a lot less wooden in their prose. Their characterizations were powerful, flawed but interesting heroes in really novel situations (Bester similar, if Heilein had smoked an awful lot of opium).

His most famous novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, released in 1961 is perhaps the least similar to the rest of his catalog, and a coincidental response to the hippie movement of the time, he basically shows thoae hip kids how it would really work if they were smart enough and had time enough for Love. In a way a retelling of the story of Jesus, giving his life to lift his people up.

But his best novel is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a look at a thrown=together group of diverse and ordinary people making their way and their own rules and what they would do confronted by choosing between slavery and certain eventual death or revolution on the moon. Good stuff about politics, relationships, and how people react in extremis.

He was interested in war, although not a warmonger, I think. Rather, as most men of that time he feared for his country in a world that would soon have atomic bombs by the score and not a few ill-feelings for the US. Read his essays written in 1945 calling for the creating of a stronger UN that could control all the nukes and armies and prevent war everywhere. Can you imagine something like that from our own warmongering neocon chickenhawks. Self-evidently Heinlein would have little use for such as these.

And he was sexist. In those days many were (J. R. R. Tolkien was a famous one as well). Women were led, women were not very important, women were seen and not heard. To give credit where it was due, this was changing in Heinlein's work. Female characters got stronger in his later works, with some books written from a female point of view. And an entire book on the difficulties and joys of being a woman, set out carefully, fairly and lovingly in his later book I Will Fear No Evil, about a dying billionaire whose brain is transferred to the body of a young woman who he loved, and so he wished to continue the life of her exquisite body properly.

Check him out. Some of his notions about technology seem a little dated, especially in the older books, but you'll never find better war stories set in the future, or better thoughts on how we would deal with the future.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's a Sci-Fi World

A few years ago I was doing tech support at a genetics company, and the sensor on the robotic arm of our tape library burned out. I thought: "It's an interesting world where I have to call the wife and tell her I'm going to be late for dinner because my robot has gone blind.".

Monday, June 01, 2009

Bill O'Reilly is not entirely responsible for the murder of Dr. Tillman

Please mentions this whenever you talk or comment about the murder of Dr. Tillman. It's completely true, and only fair.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mrs. John Smith (the former Ann Coulter)

Mrs. John Smith (the former Ann Coulter) at home in the kind of society she advocates. Mrs. Smith is a good woman who knows her place, cannot read, and does not clamor for voting rights like those homely, mannish suffragettes. Shown here with little Martha Smith, her 11th child.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The iPhone, Halfway There

UPDATE: It's really the developer community that makes the iPhone so cool. I complain below about the lack of multitasking, and then I found out that a third party developer has implemented putting running tasks in the background independently of Apple! Very cool. You still need to jailbreak the phone to get this working, and Apple makes it way too difficult to do that (and shouldn't make you need to do it in the first place).

I've had my iPhone 3G for a few months now, and I think I've finally put my finger on what's wrong with it.

Please understand, it's the best phone I've ever had; definitely a step up from my Treo. It does the phone things well enough, and much more besides. It's probably the most beautiful piece of tech I've ever seen. However, it has intensely frustrated me, and it's taken me a while to figure out why.

Everything it does it only does halfway. For instance:

* It surfs the internet. However, it doesn't play flash, and although it does a pretty good job of rendering large, complicated pages that wouldn't normally be useful on a device of this size, it's still extremely painful to access those types of pages.
* I can type on it, but it's not pleasant to do so. I could easily operate my Treo with one hand; it's much more difficult to do that on the iPhone. So, since the iPhone supports Bluetooth (and USB, I think), it seems the perfect candidate for an external keyboard, but there are none.
* It plays music, and pretty well. However, the music has to be synchronized by iTunes from your computer, and even then it is limited to Apple-vetted formats. Even iTunes on the Mac can use plugins for Ogg, FLAC, etc., but those won't help you on the iPhone.
* It plays movies, beautifully (for a device of this size), but again, only Apple's vetted formats. Even if you want to play an mpeg4 movie file that plays fine on your Mac it probably won't play on the iPhone. And you have to sync the movies to the iPhone through iTunes. I don't want to keep all my movies in iTunes; it's a pain in the butt.
* iTunes on the Mac can play Internet radio streams. iTunes on the iPhone cannot, which leads me to:
* MacOSX can multitask, so why can't the iPhone? On my Treo I could listen to Internet radio in the background while I did other things, but not on the iPhone. Only a few official Apple apps can run in the background on the iPhone; what a waste!
* The iPhone has wonderful networking capabilities, and the UNIX operating system; as a UNIX geek, these things were the reasons I finally made the purchase of the iPhone. All the pieces are there for me to have a portable, networked UNIX computer, and yet Apple goes out of it's way to not only not support that sort of use, but to block others that try to add it. I don't get it.

I could go on and on. Every single feature is implemented well, but with about half of the possible. As an engineer of sorts, it really drives me nuts. Are all of these limitations due to commercial concerns? Sometimes business practices are really painful.