Random Thoughts – Randocity!

iPad, iPod, iPhone, iConsume

Posted in Apple, cloud computing, computers by commorancy on July 30, 2010

While all of these new Apple devices seem really great on the surface (pun intended), with no effective local storage, the design behind these devices offers no thought on creation or export of created content. However, the design clearly targets consumption of digital goods. Effectively, this is a one-way device for content. That is, content goes in but it doesn’t come back out. The question begs, however, does Apple think that we are only consumers now? We are now relegated to being just a bunch of ravenous money spending consumers? We don’t have brains in our heads or creativity or imagination? We’re just a bunch of finger pushing consumers with portable devices?

Consumerism

If there’s anything that Apple has done in recent years with these one-way devices, it’s to solidify consumerism. That is, to sell us products that are essentially one-way content input devices. Granted, it has a camera so we can take pictures or video. And yes, they may have even managed to get a video editor onto an iPad, but these apps aren’t designed for professional level editing (or even prosumer level editing). Sure, it’s fine for some random party or perhaps even a low quality wedding souvenir, but these consumer-centric devices really don’t offer much for creativity or imagination, let alone software development. It doesn’t even much offer a way to produce a spreadsheet or a word processor document. No, these platforms are almost entirely designed for consumption of digital goods (i.e., books, movies, magazines, music, web content, games, etc).

Lack of Creativity

These devices were designed to consume, not create. Consume, consume, consume and then consume some more. Yes, some creativity apps have popped up, but they’re more game than serious. They’re there to let you play when you’re bored. Even these creativity apps must be consumed before you can use them. As these are really read-only devices (no hard drive, external storage or other ways of getting things out of the device), these creativity apps really aren’t meant to be taken seriously. In other words, these apps are there to placate those who might think these are consumer focused only. In reality, these creative apps are shells of what a real creative app looks like, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, AutoCAD or Maya. Even prosumer apps like Poser and Daz Studio are still leaps and bounds better than anything that’s available on these iConsumer devices.

Computers vs iConsumers

Computers are designed as well rounded devices capable of not only consuming content, but creating it. That is, as a computer owner, you have the choice to both produce and consume content. Granted, there are a lot of people who have no intention of writing music, painting a digital work, developing an application or writing a novel. However, with a computer, you have these choices available. With iConsumer devices, you really don’t. On IOS 4 or even Android, these devices just don’t have enough resources to run these types of full sized apps. So, you won’t find a full Office suite on the Droid or an iPhone. Even something as big as the iPad still doesn’t have a productivity suite that would work in a proper or efficient way. Granted, Android likely supports Google Docs. But, even still, I don’t want to sit around all day pecking in information on a chicklet keyboard of a phone. Give me a solid full sized qwerty keyboard any day for creation.

Cloud Computing, Operating Systems and a step backwards

Apple definitely missed the ball on this one. With a device like the iPad without any local storage, the only way this device could actually create is by using cloud computing services. Unfortunately, Apple offers nothing in cloud computing. The iTunes store is a poor alternative to that. In fact, the iTunes store is just a store. It doesn’t offer online apps like Google Docs, it doesn’t offer any types of web based or cloud based services that the iPad can consume. The sole way to deal with the iPad is through apps that you must download from the store. Yes, there may be ‘an app for that’, but many times there isn’t.

The other difficulties with apps is that they don’t work together on the device. There is no app synergy. For example, NeXTStep (the operating system that gave birth to Mac OS X and later iOS4) was a brilliant design. It offered a system where any app could extend the operating system by adding new controls or features. New apps installed could then consume those controls within its own app framework (sometimes even launching the other app to do so). With iPhone OS (any version), Jobs has taken a huge step backwards in computing. No longer is this extension system available. Apps are just standalone things that don’t interact or interrelate to or with one another. Yes, now multitasking may be back, but they’re still just standalone things. About the extent of interrelation between apps is having one app launch Safari and open a URL. Wow.. so sophisticated.

Notebook and creation tools

Granted, there are a lot of people who’s sole goal is to consume. And yes, it’s probably true that most people only want to consume. The question is, though, do you want to give up the ability to create to only consume? That’s exactly what you give up when you buy into the iPad, iPod or iPhone. When these portable devices can clearly consume and create content equally well and don’t force consumers to make this choice when purchasing a device, then the device will have its true potential. Until then, I see these consumerist devices as easy ways to give your money away. For people who don’t need portable creation tools, that’s fine. For those of us who do, then a full fledge hard drive-equipped notebook is still the only portable device that fills this void.

Cloud Computing Standards

We are not where we need to be. Again, the iPad was a shortsighted rapidly-designed device. It was designed for a small singular purpose, but that purpose wasn’t long term designed. Sure, the OS is upgradeable and perhaps the device may get to that point. Perhaps not. Apple has a bad habit of releasing new devices making the old ones obsolete within months of the previously-new device. So, even if a device is truly capable of reaching its potential, Apple will have tossed it aside for a new hardware device 6-10 months later.

Clearly, cloud computing will need to establish a standard by which all cloud computing devices will operate. That means, the standards will discuss exactly how icons are managed, how apps are installed and how people will interface with the cloud apps. That doesn’t mean that different devices with different input devices can’t be created. The devices can, in fact, all be different. One computer may be keyboard and mouse based, another may be touch surface based. What the cloud standards will accomplish is a standard by which users will interact with the cloud. So, no matter what computer you are using, you will always consume the cloud apps the same way. That also means the cloud apps will always work the same no matter what interface you are using.

We are kind of there now, but the web is fractured. We currently have no idea how to find new sites easily. Searching for new sites is a nightmare. Cloud computing standards would need to reduce the nightmare of search, increase ease of use for consumers and provide standardized ways of dealing with cloud computing services. In other words, the web needs dramatic simplification.

Cloud Computing and the iPad

The iPad is the right device at the wrong time and consumers will eventually see this once a real cloud computing device hits the market. Then, the iPad will be seen as a crude toy by comparison. A true cloud computing device will offer no storage, but have a huge infrastructure of extensible interrelated apps available online. Apps similar to Google Docs, but so many more types all throughout every single app category. From games, to music, to video, to photography, to finance, to everything you can imagine. Yes, a true cloud computing device will be able to consume as freely as it can create. A cloud computing OS will install apps as links to cloud services. That is, an icon will show on the ‘desktop’, but simply launch connectivity right into the cloud.

Nothing says that you need a mouse and keyboard to create content, but you do need professional quality to produce professional content. I liken the apps on the iPad to plastic play money you buy for your kids. Effectively, they’re throw-away toy apps. They’re not there for serious computing. To fully replace the desktop with cloud computing, it will need fully secured full-featured robust content creation and consumption applications. You won’t download apps at all. In fact, you will simply turn your portable computer on and the cloud will do the rest. Of course, you might have to use a login and password and you might be required to pay a monthly fee. But, since people are already paying the $30 a month for 3G service, we’re already getting accustomed to the notion of a monthly service fee. It’s only a matter of time before we are doing all of our computing on someone else’s equipment using a portable device. For listening to music, we’ll need streaming. But, with a solid state cache drive, the device will automatically download the music and listen offline. In fact, that will be necessary. But this is all stuff that must be designed and thought out properly long before any cloud device is released. …something which Apple did not do for the iPad. What they did do, though, is create the perfect digital consumption device. That is, they produced a device that lets them nickel and dime you until your wallet hates you.

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Deep Tech #1: Momentus XT, Microsoft Kinect, Micro PCs

Posted in computers, windows by commorancy on July 25, 2010

Momentus XT

Here’s something that holds some promise for notebook hard drives, but don’t get your hopes up too high. Seagate has released the Momentus XT notebook hard drive. It’s a hybrid drive that combines solid state cache technology and a 7200 RPM mechanical spindle. The thought behind this drive technology is to help speed up your notebook’s hard drive performance. The upside, the SSD cache apparently does help speed the system up. The downside is that it only works on notebooks where the bottleneck is the hard drive.

The reality is, in many notebooks, this drive technology may not help speed up the system. The reality is, most notebook manufacturers cut corners on underlying bus architectures so that the motherboard ends up being the bottleneck, not the hard drive. For this reason, notebook makers put in 5400 RPM drives to 1) increase battery life and 2) reduce the heat. A faster drive requires more power and also radiates more heat. So, if you’re looking to keep your system as cool and quiet with the longest amount of battery, the Momentus XT may not be a great choice. Considering that the drive costs around $120-200 for a 500GB drive and no guarantee of performance improvement, it may not be worth the gamble if your notebook is older than 1 year.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a portable USB 2 or 3 drive without the need for extra power supplies, this drive may well be the answer. Although, I have not found the drive prepackaged to purchase, it’s simple enough to put together your own portable drive from this drive and an external USB 3 case.

The bad news about this drive, however… don’t expect to find it at your local tech retailer. Fry’s, Best Buy and Microcenter don’t carry it. Neither do Target, Walmart, Sears or any other local retailer. If you want this drive, you will need to order it from an Internet technology e-tailer like Newegg or Amazon and then wait for it to be delivered.

Microsoft Kinect

This device, formerly known as Project Natal, turns your body into a game controller. I don’t know about you, but this really doesn’t sound that appealing. Back in the late 90s, I’d seen a full body controller game at an arcade. Not only did it require a large amount of space, so you don’t knock things over or fall over and hurt yourself, it just seemed clumsy and awkward. Fast forward to the Microsoft Kinect. I see the same issue here. I’m not actually thrilled by standing around all day flailing my arms and legs to play a video game. Perhaps for 20 or 30 minutes to get a workout (ala, Wii Fit), I just don’t think I’d want to stand around all day flailing my arms and legs to play Red Dead Redemption. I just don’t really see it happening.

Considering the price tag of $150 for this device (which, BTW, is only $50 less than the cost of an Xbox 360), I’m just not feeling the love here. Overall, I think this novelty device will garner some support in small circles, but as with most Microsoft novelty tech, it’s pretty much dead in the water at $150. If they could bundle it in with an Xbox 360 for a $250-300 price tag including a game, then maybe. But, as for now, I’m not predicting that this device will last.

The Micro PC

If you’re looking for a small computer to fill that niche in your entertainment center, then perhaps the Dell Zino HD or the Viewsonic VOT 550 will fit the bill as both appear to be quite capable tiny computers. I’ve been looking for a small well designed PC for a specific purpose. A computer about the size of an Apple MacMini, but that runs Windows. Yes, I could probably get a MacMini and load Windows on it, but I’d really rather get a PC designed for that task. With an Apple MacMini, it feels like a square-peg-round-hole situation. With a PC designed for Windows, loading Windows would work with much less problems and probably have better driver support.

Overall, I like both the idea of the Zino HD and the Viewsonic VOT 550, I’d just like to see something as small as the MacMini. If Apple can produce such a small PC, I’m not sure why Dell, Gateway or other manufacturers can’t do it with PC hardware.

Job Hunting? Don’t be scammed.

Posted in economy, Employment by commorancy on July 16, 2010

As the economy is floundering and unemployment rates remain high, there are those people and companies who look to take advantage of job seekers. Some companies are legitimate, others aren’t so much. So, let’s investigate some ways you can avoid being taken during your job hunt.

Pay to play

Be extremely wary of so-called for-pay outplacement, consulting or career management companies that require up-front payments before you get a job. These companies will sometimes promise they will find you a job, but in the end you literally end up doing all of the work and you’ve paid them to let you do your own work! In fact, it’s work that you would have done without paying them anything! These companies may operate by taking a percentage of your expected salary. For example, if the job you are seeking has a $60,000 a year salary, they may expect $6,000 (10%) as your up-front fee.

Don’t be fooled by this practice. Yes, they may give you career advice or even write you a new resume, but is a new resume and some career counseling worth $6,000? You will find many resume creation sites (and software) on the Internet to makeover your resume that costs much less than $6,000.

These outplacement companies may also claim that they have ‘databases’ of jobs. The reality is that their database may be months old or non-existent. So, even though they have a database, what good does it do to apply for a job that was listed 6 months earlier? It doesn’t do any good and is definitely not worth $6,000.

Recruiters

While recruiting companies are not necessarily scams (although, the possibility always exists), most of them feel very slimy when you work with them. So, be cautious and here’s why. Recruiting firms supposedly have job databases and find candidates that fit various job roles. Unfortunately, the recruiting agents work on quotas. So, they must close a certain number of jobs over a period of time in order to 1) get their commission and 2) remain employed as a recruiter. After all, the commission from the candidate’s placement is what keeps the recruiting company in business. A recruiting position is both a sales position (has sales quotas to meet) and as a recruiter (help you find a job). Unfortunately, there’s just a little too much conflict of interest with recruiters. The trouble comes because the employer pays the percentage fee after candidate placement is complete. So, while it may appear that they are helping you, the candidate, they are really more partial to the employer because that’s where their bread is truly buttered. When unemployment is high, they can find many candidates, but they only have that one position open.

So, the recruiter will do everything to keep the employer happy and, in most cases, couldn’t care less about the job seeker other than to get them placed. After all, there’s plenty of job seekers from which to choose. That said, they will definitely appear to care about the candidate so long as the hiring company still takes an interest in the candidate. Once the hiring company no longer expresses interest in the candidate or fills the job, that’s when the recruiter calls stop, emails stop and you can no longer reach the recruiter at all.

One other tactic of recruiters is to obtain resumes. So, if you had an old resume on file at a recruiting firm, expect to be called periodically to update your resume. The recruiter who calls you may even imply there may be jobs open with your skill set. In many cases, you are just feeding their database with another resume. In fact, they very likely had no job opening. Again, the recruiters have their job performance tied to doing work. Having spoken with you and obtained your updated resume probably suffices for one in their quota. Be wary of this practice. You’re helping them keep their job, but they may have no intention of helping you at all. They’re just stringing you along.

One other recruiting tactic to watch for is the phantom job tactic. The recruiter will claim to officially represent the hiring company. They tell you a job is open and that they are requesting a resume to submit. They will even put up a front and tell you they have submitted your resume for the position. Then, you never hear back from them. Why? Because they lied. They had no position open. They didn’t have any official status to represent the hiring company. So, how does this happen? Again, this is a quota issue. They need to make quotas, so the recruiter will string you along hoping the hiring company will agree to use the recruiting firm and then pay the commission. Unfortunately, the recruiting firm has not officially contacted the company until after they had your resume in hand. The trouble is, they didn’t have the company’s permission nor blessing. So, the recruiter contacts the company and the company says, “We don’t work with recruiters, sorry”. End of discussion.. no more contact. There is no way to really ensure the legitimacy of what a recruiter tells you. But, it certainly is a waste of time.

In the case of a recruiter, you necessarily won’t be out any money, but it can certainly take away valuable time that you could otherwise be seeking direct opportunities, submitting resumes or even updating your resume. It’s easy to get bogged down in recruiter time suck activities. So, be wary when recruiters come knocking.

Craigslist and Classified ads

While classified boards like Craigslist are great places to find job opportunities, it’s also a place to get scammed. So, if you choose to look for jobs in classified ads, make sure that you verify the company you are contacting. That means, check the phone book or the Internet to ensure that the phone numbers and addresses actually match the hiring company’s office address. You don’t want to end up in some seedy dive on a fake interview or being taken for some amount of money. If any money is involved before you get a job, walk away. There are way too many sites that can help you find jobs without fees.

Fee Based Job Boards

Some well known web employment listing sites charge subscription fees to help you find jobs. While I understand this web business model, the job seeker is most probably out of a job when seeking new employment. So, while paying monthly subscription fees might seem worthwhile, you may end up having no better luck in finding a job than using free services like Hotjobs, Dice or Monster. So, be cautious when asked to supply a credit card number to get access to a bigger database or get access to employment ‘review’ services. If you want to spend money, that’s up to you, but I’d recommend exhausting all other free avenues (and believe me, there are plenty) long before you throw your money away on for-pay job boards.

If you are months into your search and still have no leads after trying all of the free sites, then and only then would I try a for-pay job board. Some of these boards offer one month subscription periods. I’d recommend trying these job boards by paying for only one month and see how well it works for you. One month should be well long enough to dig through their database, submit resumes and see if you get any nibbles. You may find that it does nothing. Also, make sure that after the one month payment ends there are no recurring subscriptions still active. You don’t want to get any surprise fees on your credit card statement the next month.

Avoid the scams

If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. When seeking a job, you want to avoid being scammed out of whatever money you have… especially when unemployed. So, be cautious if a web site asks you to load a credit card number into their registration page. In short, don’t do it. If they require a credit card number to sign you up, skip that site and move on. If you do decide to part with your credit card number to get access, be sure to fully read all of the sites disclosures to understand how they charge for their services. If you can’t find how they charge for services, skip the site.

Good luck in your job search.

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