29 February 2016


Support for Apple’s position resisting the Justice Department’s attempt to force them to crack open their own security system is not the same as uncritical support for the company and its practices. Long time users, some as loyal as groupies, have routinely been screwed by the company as purchases have often become obsolete as soon as they are received. There is also the recurring habit of making connections obsolete, particularly in computers, constantly replacing an existing interface with a different one rendering peripherals obsolete or creating an aftermarket for adapters to bypass the change. Apple also seductively lures you into its “ecosystem” so you are stuck there, having invested so much in it. 

That is why I bought an IPad Pro a few months ago, even though I hated the IPad I already owned, because the circumstances are comparable to the relatives you are stuck with. I bought it from AT&T, complete with the cellular option sharing my IPhone line only to find that you can’t make calls with it; it only receives, or has to have the IPhone present (like the watch) which is kind of ridiculous. That makes the cellular feature primarily useful for expensive data charges if you’re stuck somewhere with no wifi. I sprang for the 128Gb maximum memory because you still can’t use any external storage, i.e. with an SD card, because I have a huge number of apps and books on it. That pushed past the capacity of my Idrive,  making it necessary to pay for additional cloud storage. The operating system still sucks, especially if you’ve used a Mac, because the IOS system is basically invisible unless you spring for apps that can do basic things like file handling. The only real improvement over the previous IPad is numbers and letters appear on an expanded keyboard instead of having to switch between them thanks to the additional real estate. To do any serious writing you have to buy an external case and keyboard, so what you wind up with in the end is basically a second rate laptop. 

On the plus side, when I had battery and other problems with the device Apple replaced the whole thing with no hassle. They also offer a hell of a lot of software for free or at a low price even for professional programs like Logic audio or Final Cut Pro, and has made the cost of IOS apps remarkably cheap. I bought the IPad Pro to use as an external surface for things that run on the Mac, supplementing it, and for use as a scratchpad on the go. You can also use finger swipes to edit photos and remote controls on audio. However typing is i still better on a PC (Apple makes lousy keyboards- for one of my Mac Pros I actually had to buy a Microsoft keyboard to type comfortably).  Documents and photos are passed through icloud to other devices that can continue editing, but remember this- Apple does not back up your Icloud documents on your computer. You have to do that yourself. So if you ever have a cloud problem, your work disappears, as happened to me one time. 

Photos is a simple program, but does allow for third party extensions making useful to serious photographers, who are now faced with two systems; Apple’s and Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Photoshop and Lightroom users. Apple’s claim that all your photo are stored basically assumes you take pictures with an IPhone which I never do. I use an SLR, and at high resolution the files are huge and will quickly exhaust the space they give you. 

Clearly the emphasis now is on mobile devices, and power computer users are left hanging as desktops fade away from the mainstream. Apple’s latest desktop, which looks like an office trash can, echoes this trend. The previous Mac Pro was much better; indeed, from my experience it was the best computer ever made. It is big, but in addition to the startup drive it contains four bays that you can easily fill with hard drives and set up a multi-terabyte RAID array while enjoying the luxury of 64gb of memory on 12-core computing. Such features account for the robust aftermarket for machines that are six or more years old. Replace the boot drive with an SSD an you’re up to date on everything. 

It’s not just Apple though. The desktop market has significantly slowed down. PCs have had the same Intel processors, i.e. i3, i5, i7 for a number of years, where in the past every year brought something different. Computers still don’t have the reliability of video or audio gear or appliances etc. in terms of breaking down, but as obsolescence decreases reliability should increase. Laptops are now in much wider use, but there is a vulnerability that desktops don’t have, namely the screen. Once that goes on a laptop it’s gone. But few companies now focus on desktops, which increasingly have been relegated to serious technophiles, game enthusiasts, and server applications.

in truth what is a PC today? I would argue that smartphones; personal communicators, are the real “PCs” today, with all the things they can do. Far more people use smartphones than desktop computers, and apart from the phone function itself they are a primary Internet gateway. Those who have grown up with these things are aware of little distinction between the Internet and the device itself and have only a vague understanding of a computer as a useful stand-alone device without the Internet. 

So old “PCs” ought to be relegated to “desktops,” as the handheld devices we use increasingly are the real PCs. If you never write much more than 140 characters at a time or don’t care about grammar and syntax these things may suffice. But if you type fast, or touch type, they are painful, and the Apple “chiclet” keyboards aren’t much better  for any kind of serious writing. The best keyboard I ever used was the one on the old IBM Selectric typewriter, where words would somehow just fly across the page, and computer keyboards are only as good as they are close to that standard. 

Given the ubiquity of handheld devices, and an increasing number of other “smart” devices like televisions, DVRs, etc. things have come around full circle for the old desktop. It all began with a relatively small number of enthusiasts on the full-size computers of their day, only to come back to a base of power users who still find advantages in the desktop. For it is only with a desktop that you can pile on massive amounts of memory, multiple high capacity disks,  a motherboard that can take various expansion cards, and super sharp graphics boards that can support the largest monitors you can find in duplicate, triplicate or more. For these reasons, although relatively small in number alongside the rest of the market, in at least a few hands desktops will continue to be used and appreciated for the forseeable future. 

18 February 2016


When it comes to national security we are usually favorably disposed towards the government’s position and efforts, for that is its prime responsibility. However a federal court’s order to Apple to facilitate turning up evidence on a terrorism case is just plain wrong and an ominous expansion of government power. What is troubling is less about Apple’s resistance on principle and more to do with what the court has directed the company to pursue. 

It would be one thing if Apple had in its possession information that it was withholding or refusing to turn over. But Apple doesn’t have the information because their system does not allow even Apple to obtain user’s private information such as passwords, which is reassuring to customers concerned with their privacy. In other words, Apple itself does not have the keys to the box. What the court has done is breathtaking in its overreach. It has ordered Apple to do something to get the information, to come up with a way to crack the system which is designed to be nearly impossible to break. It is demanding that Apple come up with a way to defeat its own safeguards which hitherto have not been breached. 

There is no certainty that this is even possible. But if it is many arguments have been put forward as to why the order should be resisted. First it would destroy the promise of security that customers expect, second it effectively enable the government to penetrate the privacy of anyone at any time, third if a “back door” into the system is found hackers will soon get access, and fourth, since Apple sells more phones internationally than in the US, other governments, many with less respect for human rights than others, will demand the same prerogative. 

But most importantly and most troubling is the state’s order that Apple create something that does not exist now. If the government can tell Apple that you must do X because we need Y then the it effectively empowers the state to do the same with any entity or person at any time. For once it is established that the government can compel anyone to take certain actions they have not done before, with this effort coming at their own expense, there is no limit to what it could demand. If the FBI wants this information they should find a way themselves, for this is not something relatively benign like metadata, but is instead a serious abuse of power.  

No sane person has any sympathy with terrorists, who must be rigorously pursued by any necessary means. If Apple had the requested information it would be right to order that they turn it over. But they don’t. It is completely unreasonable to force them to go find something they do not possess and that they might or might not be able to discover. The government has more than enough evidence to make this particular case (the massacre of 14 people in San Bernadino). The only possible value for what it is asking is to find out if anyone else is involved, which is a laudable goal, but can be discovered in other ways. 

If this goes forward we will not be any safer or more secure, and we will have lost a significant amount of freedom. So it is not even privacy that we ought to be concerned about so much as the ridiculous notion that the government in seeking information no one possesses can force any of us to go find it for them. All lovers of freedom should support Apple in this matter. 

02 February 2016


it is increasingly likely that Marco Rubio will win the Republican nomination for President. He has considerable momentum coming out of the Iowa caucuses and will only grow stronger as the primaries move south after New Hampshire. At that point it would be time for the two-percenters to drop out given their low showing in the polls and rally around Rubio as the “establishment” candidate. 

It is ironic that Rubio is now being viewed as one of the Republican establishment candidates, given that he rose in Florida politics as an insurgent. He became speaker of the Florida House of Representatives at a very young age, and then challenged the man who was in fact the “establishment” candidate in the race to be Florida’s Senator, former Governor Charlie Crist. At the time it appeared that the senate seat was Crist’s for the taking, but Rubio’s insurgent campaign prevailed and he won the nomination. He was in fact the anti-establishment candidate, and unless one considers anyone elected to office as “establishment” simply by virtue of the position they hold, it is ridiculous to give Rubio that label. It is true that Rubio did engage in horse-trading with other senators, involved himself in the legislative process and occasional compromise, but that is what senators are supposed to do. 

The back story in this reveals why many grassroots Republicans do not trust the establishment. A man like Crist was a typical moderate, establishment Republican figure. But when he lost what did he do? He switched parties and became a Democrat but subsequent lost with  that designation anyway. If the political situation is this fluid it is understandable why some people mistrust establishment figures. Nevertheless the establishment encompasses a broad range of individuals with different viewpoints. All they may have in common is a willingness to work within the existing system, traditions, and conventions. 

The alternative is to behave like Ted Cruz, not only not playing nice with others but attacking them as well, based upon purity of principle; to the point where none of his colleagues can stand him. That defiant stance may win the Iowa caucus but will never win the presidency. If he improbably did win we would have the same situation that has prevailed with Obama throughout his presidency, namely the inability to work with congress, due to disdain for that body in Obama’s case or ideological rigidity in Cruz’s case. A President cannot dictate. He must persuade, lead, and compromise when necessary to get anything done.

Rubio offers the prospect of young, dynamic leadership that could restore the essence of what this country has lost while at the same time move forward. He would be wise to consider composing part of his cabinet from some of the other impressive candidates. Ben Carson could be Surgeon General or head Health and Human Services, Carly Fiorina could be Secretary of Commerce, and Chris Christie would make a great Attorney General, among others, and a number of the other candidates would also make a good Vice-Presidential choice. 

At this point he would contrast well against the Democratic candidates spiraling towards left-wing irrelevancy. He could win against Hillary Clinton, or not improbably, Joe Biden if she is deposed by legal problems. When the primary dust settles Rubio will be the one left standing, and his ascendancy will only be starting.