Apple stock price January 29, 2013Posted by Clint Foster in Uncategorized.
Tags: Apple, Apple stock, Apple television, iPhone
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What’s happening to Apple’s stock price? Why isn’t it continuing to go up?
Apple’s product quality, customer service and retail experience are arguably amongst the best of any company in the world. This is great for customers, but it doesn’t necessarily satisfy shareholders because they’re not particularly interested in those things. Shareholder aren’t even impressed by extremely high profit margins. Instead, shareholders want companies to grow infinitely without bounds. Since Apple is showing signs of not doing that, they’re unhappy.
Now that Apple has virtually saturated the upscale market for consumer electronics devices in various categories, some have suggested that the solution is to develop and sell cheap phones, both in the US and developing countries such as China. This would be a departure from Apple’s traditional strategy of selling upscale products at high margins. At least in the short term it might allow the infinite growth illusion to continue. But at best it would only make the stockholders happy for a short while.
As a customer (not a shareholder) I’m not particularly excited about Apple making commodity plays. I’d rather see them repeat the iPhone formula with a different product. When the iPhone debuted, phones were wretched devices that never seemed to change in substantive ways, despite steadily improving technology. Instead, manufacturers were only imaginative enough to compete on “bullet points”. Some have pointed out that the television set is an example of a similar product today. As a consumer I’d be happy to pay a premium for a device that re-invents TV in the same way that the iPhone re-invented phones. But that would require true innovation (unlike selling cheap phones to the unwashed masses).
Media spins the Higgs boson July 5, 2012Posted by Clint Foster in Uncategorized.
Tags: Higgs boson, LHC, physics, Standard Model
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Yesterday the local NPR station in San Diego interviewed a physicist at UCSD who participated in one of two “competing” experiments whose results generated all the recent excitement about the Higgs boson. (As I understand it, both experiments independently produced similar results.) The interview itself was not as good as the written summary here.
If you haven’t already seen the Guardian’s “ping pong ball” analogy, it’s worth watching this video (mentioned at the end of the article). I don’t know how accurate the analogy is, but at least they gave it a shot.
It’s interesting to note that the equivalent article in USA Today is almost completely devoid of scientific information. It’s mostly just pictures and references to problems, costs and a baguette scandal. Nevertheless, it’s useful to flip through the timeline since it provides a quick history of the LHC.
It’s too bad that some in the media have latched onto calling the Higgs boson the “God particle”. You only need to understand a little bit of the science to see that this isn’t a useful analogy. For example, the Higgs has no effect on photons. Does that mean they’re godless?
Agile development: Keeping it fresh December 22, 2011Posted by Clint Foster in Software develpment.
Tags: Agile, Burnout, Kanban, ken schwaber, Scrum
Configuring PulseAudio in Ubuntu to use the headset for specific apps (e.g. Skype) December 18, 2011Posted by Clint Foster in Ubuntu.
Tags: headset, pavucontrol, Pulse Audio, PulseAudio, Skype, Ubuntu
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These comments apply to 64-bit Ubuntu 10.10.
Typically with applications such as Skype or the Google Talk plugin you want the audio (except ringing) to go through your USB headset. For all other applications you want the default “sink” to be something else (in my case the analog output port, which I’ve got connected to a Tivoli table radio). Although the standard Sound preferences application in Ubuntu cruelly taunts you into believing it can do this, I haven’t had any luck in 10.10 (or the prior two releases). This is disappointing since it’s exactly the sort of thing PulseAudio should be good at.
The problem apparently has to do with Ubuntu’s Sound preferences application, not Pulse Audio (or Skype). If you’re like me, you may have tried PulseAudio Volume Control (pavucontrol) in the past and assumed it was redundant. But it isn’t. Here are step-by-step instructions for configuring applications such as Skype to use a different sound device than other applications:
- Go to Software Center and install “PulseAudio Volume Control”. (In my experience you don’t need “Device Chooser”.)
- Start it up under Applications -> Sound & Video.
- Before proceeding with the per-application configuration, go to the Configuration tab and make sure the USB headset itself is configured properly.
- Go to the Output Devices tab and set the “fallback” output device to be whatever you want it to be for most applications. Generally this would not be your USB headset. For me it’s the internal analog output. Note: This also changes the default setting in the Ubuntu Sound Preferences application (which actually does a better job of indicating the current setting than pavucontrol.)
- Go to the Input Devices tab and set the fallback input device. (For me it’s the USB headset.)
- Go to the Playback tab and put the window in a corner where you can see it while you generate audio in other applications…
- Start Skype and make a test call.
- When the Skype application shows up in pavucontrol, make the USB headset the default (if it isn’t already).
- In Skype, go to Options -> Notifications -> Incoming Call Ringing, and click the Test Event button. While the sound is playing set the output device in pavucontrol to whatever you want (presumably something other than the headset).
- As far as I can tell, only applications that you have never run before will use the “fallback” (default) device that you specified above. So, for example, if you’ve been listening to RythmBox through the headset, and you now want it use a different output device, you need to start it up and explicitly associate it with that device.
- Most audio generated by browsers such as FireFox and Chrome shows up as the “Alsa plug-in” application in pavucontrol. Fortunately Google Talk uses a different plugin. So you can still send Google Talk audio to your headset, and all other browser output elsewhere, e.g. Pandora, YouTube, Outlook Web Access notifications, etc.
Monoprice 3-way in-wall speakers November 18, 2011Posted by Clint Foster in Audio.
Tags: audio, in-wall speakers, monoprice
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Although I was fairly satisfied with the 2-way speakers I reviewed in my previous post, the audio geek in me would not allow me to rest until I heard what the extra $30 for the 3-way versions would buy (if anything). Here is the review I posted on the Monoprice site:
Comparison of Monoprice in-wall 2-way and 3-way speakers
I posted a somewhat negative review of the 2-way version of these speakers several days ago, but it hasn’t shown up yet on the Monoprice site. The issue I cited was poor treble response and papery-sounding vocals in comparison to a reference pair of modest Boston Acoustics bookshelf speakers. In-wall speakers can be forgiven for unpredictable bass response, but they should be able to reproduce midrange and treble as faithfully as bookshelf speakers. After reading the other reviews here I thought I might be able to get some help from monoprice’s tech support people regarding whether the 3-ways have better treble response than the 2-ways. But instead I got into a long chat dialog with a support person who clearly had little experience with audio equipment. I would have been perfectly happy to cut the conversation short if he had simply said that he had not evaluated both speakers together. But he insisted that he had, and then proceeded to tell me repeatedly that it would be impossible for him to say even in the most general terms whether the 3-way speakers sound brighter than the 2-way ones. I asked him if perhaps he couldn’t remember whether there was a difference in the treble, but at that point he was in lecturing mode, and I was unable to get any further information out of him except for strange circuitous pseudo-technical babble.
Eventually I decided to order the 3-way speakers and evaluate them side-by-side with the 2-way versions. I did this by setting my amp to “mono” and installing both speakers in a wall in the same room as the “left” and “right” speakers, using the balance control to compare.
The 3-way speakers have much clearer treble and vocals. The best term I can think to describe the sound of the midrange in the 2-way versions is “papery”. The 3-way versions sound live and airy by comparison, especially when listening to vocals and delicate treble instruments. Even when comparing the speakers in separate rooms (not side-by-side) the difference would be noticeable to anyone who is concerned with audio quality.
I strongly recommend going with the 3-way versions instead of the 2-way. Both are competent, but unless you are only listening to talk radio you won’t regret spending the extra money on the 3-way speakers.
Monoprice 2-way in-wall speakers November 18, 2011Posted by Clint Foster in Audio, Uncategorized.
Tags: audio, in-wall speakers, monoprice
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Those of you who are familiar with monoprice.com know that they have probably done more than anyone else to debunk the idea that paying a lot for things like speaker cables or HDMI cables somehow buys you something that you can tangibly hear or see. (On a side note, this has always made me wonder: When NASA builds spacecraft do they purchase the wiring from Monster Cable since it contains secret sauce that makes it better, or do they consult the rules of physics to determine gauge, shield type, etc. for the application, and run down to the bulk wire aisle at Home Depot?)
When I noticed recently that monoprice also carries in-wall speakers, I couldn’t help but think audio gear is another area where bogus esoteric marketing often wins out over science (in this case, the pure physics of how much you need to spend to make a transducer vibrate and accurately reproduce sound). When I saw that the price was $57.70 a pair, I decided to give these Monoprice-branded wall-speakers with 8″ woofers and 1″ dome tweeters a try.
Following is my review (which I also posted on the Monoprice site)…
Comparison of Monoprice in-wall speakers with bookshelf speakers
I’ve always heard even the best in-wall speakers don’t sound as good as mediocre bookshelf speakers because the baffle (air space behind the driver) can’t be tuned. I don’t have any other in-wall speakers for comparison, but here’s my comparison of these Monoprice speakers with a pair of inexpensive Boston Acoustics HS60 bookshelf speakers (6 1/2″ woofer, 1″ dome tweeter).
Bass: The bass on the Boston’s sounds punchier and tighter, but this could be because the ported enclosure is giving them a mid-bass peak. It’s entirely possible the 8″ Monoprice woofers with their “sealed” enclosure (the wall space) are providing better low-end extension. In that case I may be subjectively preferring the more forward bass of the Boston’s. (The only way to know for sure would be to check them with a microphone and frequency analyzer.)
Midrange/treble: Somewhat to my surprise, the treble on the Boston’s is what really sets them apart from the Monoprice speakers. By comparison, the high end rolls off so sharply on the Monoprice speakers that it even affects vocals (leaving them somewhat muffled). On the Boston’s, vocals are more realistic and airy. Delicate high frequency sounds (e.g. shakers) are almost non-existent on the Monoprice speakers when directly compared to the Boston’s.
I’m somewhat surprised by these results. The biggest difference was in high frequency response, yet bookshelf speakers shouldn’t have a significant advantage there because the baffle doesn’t affect the tweeter. Possibly the Bostons’ tweeters are simply better. (But, setting aside audiophile BS, how much should it cost to make a high-frequency driver that’s reasonably accurate?) Removing the “dust shield” behind the grills on the Monoprice speakers helped improve the treble response somewhat. Pointing the adjustable tweeters downward also helped. But these tweaks only resulted in a marginal overall improvement. Note: The 3-position tweeter switch is set to “-0 db”.
Would other in-wall speakers sound better? I don’t know. I hope someone will post a comparison. So far most of the reviews are from people who have only listened to these speakers by themselves (not in comparison to anything else).
Would I purchase these again? Considering the price and the application I’m using them for, possibly. They’re in a large bathroom where I often listen to talk (NPR, podcasts, etc.). Despite what you might conclude from the comments above, vocals are reproduced very intelligibly. I think that’s because there is no mid-bass boominess to muddy them up. Having said that, if I purchase another pair of in-wall speakers I will probably check out what Boston Acoustics has to offer. I’d also be curious to know how the 3-way version of the Monoprice speakers might compare.
64-bit Lucid Lynx June 17, 2010Posted by Clint Foster in Ubuntu.
Tags: 10.04, 64-bit, Linux, Lucid, Ubuntu
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I finally made the jump to Ubuntu 10.04 on my development machine at work. When it comes to Linux, I prefer to start fresh, so I installed it in a new partition. I ping-pong back and forth between two primary partitions each time a new release comes out, so it’s easy to go back to the old one from the grub menu if necessary. But so far that has not been necessary with Lucid. The nice thing about this modus updatus is that I can mount the other partition and copy over all my personal files and any applications that don’t require installers (which includes a lot of the Java applications I use for development, such as SoapUI, Squirrel and OpenMQ. The Lucid installation itself only took about an hour (if that), including updates. Then I spent another 6 hours or so tweaking my development environment.
The only big issue thus far is that a long-standing bug I’ve had with the Evolution mapi plugin changed slightly for the worse: Instead of simply leaving about half of the HTML messages I reply to in the local Outbox, it now sends them, and the recipient sees a jumble of HTML garbage. The workaround is to switch to plain text before sending replies, or start a new email and paste in the reply text if I need HTML.
The ATI proprietary driver worked perfectly the first time with my dual displays. That’s a big improvement over earlier releases.
Adobe removed the beta 64-bit Flash plugin from their web site, supposedly in preparation for a completely rewritten one. I copied the old one from my Karmic partition, and it works fine with Chrome and Firefox, except it seems to time out more easily loading Flex applications that make heavy use of interactive Flash features.
Non-squishy crunchy keyboard April 22, 2010Posted by Clint Foster in Ubuntu.
Tags: keyboard, Logitech
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The keys on my crappy HP keyboard at work are so crunchy and squishy my fingers were starting to hurt. They aren’t as bad as the last generation squishy crunchy Apple keyboard, but they’re still pretty awful. The last straw was the left shift key getting extra-crunchy, so last night I made a trip to Fry’s Electronics. They had quite a good selection of keyboards on display, and I spent an hour touch typing for short periods on each of them. This Logitech model was the winner by a fairly significant margin:
I was judging solely by feel, not looks or features. As it happens, this one looks pretty clean. I ignored all the Bluetooth keyboards because I don’t think they make a lot of sense for a desktop machine in a work environment.
The key travel is fairly short (but slightly longer than the current Apple aluminum keyboard), and the keys “make” with a satisfying feeling that is just short of an actual “click”. I’ve been using it all day to write code, and so far it’s one of the best keyboards I can remember owning.
I’m running Linux so I didn’t install any of the crapware on the accompanying CD. Using the default keyboard driver that came with Karmic Koala, all the standard keys work perfectly, including volume and mute.
Second runner-up was this Gear Head model with no numeric keypad. I prefer not having a numeric keypad since it pushes the mouse too far to the right if you line the home keys up in the middle of your screen(s). Surprisingly, it was only $9.99, despite the fact that its keys felt more sophisticated than virtually all of the other keyboards (except the Logitech). Unfortunately, it had a smallish space bar, and some of the keys were in slightly odd locations, so I disqualified it. Also, I think I would have missed having an integrated wrist rest.
Third runner-up was this Kensington with “scissor-switch technology”. Its key action was quite nice, but not quite as subtle and urbane as the Logitech. The required force was slightly higher than the Logitech, which I think would lead to less satisfaction for long periods of typing. Also, a box containing a new one was nowhere to be found in this particular nasty Fry’s in San Marcos, CA.
Everyone wants to be able to resize a window? February 5, 2010Posted by Clint Foster in Apple, Uncategorized.
Tags: desktop paradigm, iPad, iPhone
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The iPad caught me a bit by surprise. I was expecting it to be something more revolutionary than an oversized iPhone. Then again….
- I think about my parents: After all these years they are still often flustered and confused by their Mac. (Come to think of it, I often find it a sucky experience myself.)
- I think about kids: They view desktops as things old people use at work. They do almost everything they need on their phones. Is this just a kid thing, or does it portend a move away from multitasking computers with overly-flexible windowed UI’s (including netbooks, which still use the same irritating desktop paradigm)?
I always expected the future of computing to come in the form of something like an awesome new version of OS X that starts over from scratch with the desktop interface. But what if it sneaks up on us from a simple cell phone UI?
Karmic for Java development November 14, 2009Posted by Clint Foster in Java, Ubuntu.
Tags: 9.10, Java, Karmic, Ubuntu
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This was originally an email sent to a fellow Linux geek after upgrading from Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty) to 9.10 (Karmic) on my development machine at work (thus the abbreviations and poor grammar). I think Ubuntu is a better Java development platform than either Windows or OS X. It has lots of developer-friendly touches (like tabbed resizable terminal windows) that Windows lacks. And it keeps up with the latest JDK’s (unlike OS X). It also has some UI features that increase productivity, such as a simple launcher that automatically sorts programs into categories. However, setting up an Ubuntu machine for Java development is not for the faint of heart.
Maybe this would have been less painful if I had upgraded my existing Jaunty installation instead of installing Karmic in a new partition and setting it up from scratch for Java development. I had forgotten how long it took to get all my tools set up just right the first time around…
I started this little project at about 5:30pm on Friday, and I left at about 11 with a system that still wasn’t quite working. Since my drive is divided between two primary partitions (ntfs/win and ext3/jaunty) I decided to install karmic where xp formerly lived since I never boot the xp partition anyway. This left the existing jaunty partition in place as a fallback, and allowed me to install karmic with ext4.
For starters, I spent about an hour cleaning up my jaunty environment by getting rid of old files, deleting unneeded snapshots from my VirtualBox xp vm, etc. Then I backed up my xp vm and the remaining important documents and configuration files to my macbook over the network. This probably took a couple of hours by the time I was done. For starters I was having some kind of weird permissions problem with samba on the mac. I could see the Mac’s “Public” folder from jaunty, but I couldn’t write to it even though I made it writable by everyone on the planet. I tried every incantation you could imagine. The ultimate solution was to create a new folder under my login directory and share it. But then I had problems copying my 10 GB xp vm file. It would crap out at the 2 GB mark every time (suspicious number, eh?). I finally gave up and enabled the FTP server on the mac, and used that to copy the file over.
Once those files were backed up on the Mac where I could get to them easily, I installed 64-bit karmic (from CD) into the xp partition (reformatting it as ext4 when the partitioner prompted me). I think I had the whole thing installed and running in a half hour. When I rebooted it prompted me to install the updates that have occurred since the karmic release, as well as the proprietary ATI video drivers. All went off without a hitch, and I finally have all the cool compositing screen effects that never worked in jaunty with my ATI card.
Next I installed the karmic-specific version of 64-bit VirtualBox directly from Sun (not thru the repo). That went perfectly. Then I ftp’ed the xp vm I had backed up to my Mac. This consisted of two folders and one xml file that needed to be copied to ~/.VirtualBox. I pretty much winged this after browsing a few forum messages on the topic, so I wasn’t sure if VirtualBox would be able to boot the XP VM when I was done. It did. No hitches.
If I were a normal user and I had stopped here, at this point I would have gone off to dinner and a beer with great satisfaction. Unfortunately, when I started installing my Java dev tools things got nasty…
First I installed the sun jdk directly from the new software center thingy in karmic. I was careful NOT to install the gnu gcj since it is a piece of crap and causes all kinds of problems. That went perfectly. Then I typed ant from the command line to see if it was already installed. Even though I knew better from past experience, when it said ant wasn’t installed, please type “apt-get ant” to install, I did it in hopes that it was smart enough to realize a version of Java was already installed, so it didn’t need to install gcj. But no, it installed gcj on top of Sun’s java. Everything still seemed to be working, so I decided to install Eclipse Galileo from the software center. That worked too. But then when I tried to install the subclipse plugin I got some kind of error about the osgi bundle dependency being missing. Same thing with ivy (another plugin we use at work).
So… I went into Synaptic Package Mgr (which still exists in Karmic) and uninstalled ant and every single thing I could find that had anything to do with java (either Sun or gcj). Then I installed Sun’s java directly from their site (which was newer than the copy in the repo, btw). I put it in the front of my path in ~/.profile, rebooted, and then I started installing anything that depended on java manually without going through the repository.
The Eclipse installation went fairly seamlessly, although I had problems with buttons not registering clicks in the GUI, requiring me to tab to them and press enter. It turns out this is a well-known problem if you don’t use the Eclipse from the repo. The fix is to set a wacky env variable telling it to use native windows. I did that, and it “fixed” the problem. (Supposedly this will be resolved in Eclipse 3.6.)
Next I installed the subclipse and ivy plugins. This time I did not get any funky osgi errors. But: For some reason when I go into Window->Preferences I do not see anything for Subversion under Team. Same thing if I go to View. I don’t see the Subversion Repository Browser view. Possibly the problem is that I selected all the components when I installed subclipse, including the Windows-only native interface. I think I did that on jaunty too with no problems. It simply said it was disabled. Anyway, I tried uninstalling all the subclipse components (which is done from a completely different place in Eclipse — what a basket case). Then I reinstalled the subclipse components without the native plugin. I got no errors, but Eclipse still behaves as if subclipse isn’t installed (even though it shows up in the installed software list).
By this time I was getting really hungry, so I verified that my jaunty partition still booted, and left. On the way to Taco Bell it occurred to me that since Eclipse is such a big steaming heap I shouldn’t rely on the GUI plugin uninstall. So I think I should nuke the whole plugins directory. The other thing I should probably do is install the command line version of svn before I reinstall the subclipse plugin. I’m pretty sure it’s not needed because I think the plugin uses the Java svn API if you aren’t using the native stuff (which, btw, doesn’t seem to be any faster than the java plugin, so I don’t know why they bothered since either way it comes down to a socket connection to the server).
I’ll probably install svn from the repo, but I’ll check carefully first to be sure it doesn’t depend on gcj. I doubt it does since it’s probably a pure c app. In jaunty I think I manually installed the one from CollabNet last time because it was a newer version than the one in the jaunty repo.
So… what have we learned from all this? In terms of getting things set up for a Java developer, Karmic is no different than the last several versions of Ubuntu: It’s tricky due to Ubuntu’s hippie-like insistence on setting up all the Java-dependent software in the repo with dependencies on gcj (apparently because it is more “open” than Sun’s). If you’re careful to avoid installing any Java-based apps from the repo (which I wasn’t) you’re OK if you don’t mind manually installing ant, mvn, Eclipse, and the jdk. For an intermediate Linux geek it’s not too difficult. For someone not familiar with Linux I can see it could be quite tricky. Too bad since Ubuntu is an excellent platform for Java development (once you get it set up).