The iPhone Wars, Day 121

120 days later and I figured it was time for an update on the war.

First: I still hate this thing.

Somewhere along the way with one of the iOS updates, the battery life started going to crap, even when I’m barely using the device. When I use it as a personal hotspot, I can practically watch the battery meter race to zero.

I’ve nailed down what it is about the email client that I don’t like, and it’s the same thing I don’t like about many of the apps: the user interfaces are inconsistent and cramped. Navigating my way through a breadcrumb trail that is up near (but not quite) up at the top just feels clunky. This is where contrast with Windows Phone really, really hurts the iPhone in my experience; the Metro (I know, we’re not supposed to call it that anymore, but they can bite me) user interface principles are clean and clear. Trying to figure out simple tasks like how to get the iPhone to actually resync is more complex than necessary. Having the “new message” icon down on the bottom when the navigation is up top is stupid.

The one thing that impresses me consistently is even though the screen is small, the on-screen keyboard is really good at figuring out which letter I am trying to hit. On my Windows Phone I mistype things all the time. This rarely happens on the iPhone. Even though the on-screen keys are much smaller, the iPhone typing precision is much higher. Microsoft, take note – I’m tired of what feels like pressing on one key only to have another key grab the focus.

Even the few custom apps I do use on this iPhone fail to impress. Thanks to a lack of consistent design language, learning one doesn’t help me with the rest, and I have discovered that iPhone developers are just as bad as Windows Phone developers when it comes to inexplicable gaps in functionality.

I guess no one knows how to write good mobile software yet.

The iPhone Wars, Day 1

Part of the fun of settling into a new job is the new tools. In this trade, that’s the laptop and the cell phone. Now, I already have a perfectly good laptop and cell phone, so I probably could have just gone on using those, but where so much of what I do is from home, I find it important to have a clear break between personal business and work. Having separate devices helps me define that line.

My current cell phone is a Nokia Lumia 1020 (Windows Phone 8), which I definitely enjoy. I haven’t had a good chance to take the camera for a full spin, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve had a lot of PDAs and smart phones in my time: Palm Pilot, Handspring Visor, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, even an Android. The one I’ve never had, though, is an iPhone.

And it’s not that I hate Apple. My favorite past laptop was my MacBook Pro (Apple has ruined me for any other touchpad). Granted, I’m that weird bastard who loaded Vista SP1 into Boot Camp and hardly ever booted back into Mac OS X again, but ever since then I’ve usually had a spare Apple computer around the house, if only for Exchange interop testing. OS X is a good operating system, but it’s not my favorite, so my main device is always a Windows machine. My current favorite is my Surface Pro.

In all of that, though, I’ve never had an iOS device. Never an iPhone, never an iPad. Yesterday, that all changed.

I needed a business smart phone that runs a specific application, one that hasn’t yet been ported to Windows Phone. I’ve long been an advocate that “apps matter first; pick your OS and platform after you know what apps you need.” Here was my opportunity not to be a shining hypocrite! After discussion with Jeremy, I finally settled on a iPhone 5, as Android was going to be less suitable for reasons too boring to go into.

So now I have an iPhone, and I have just one question for you iPhone-lovers of the world: You really like this thing? Honest to goodness, no one is putting a gun to your head?

I can’t stand this bloody thing! First, it’s too damn small! I mean, yes, I like my smart phones somewhat large, but I have big hands and I have pockets. The iPhone 5 is a slim, flat little black carbon slab with no heft. I’ve taken to calling it the CSD – the Carbon Suppository of Death. Now, if it were just the form factor, I could get used to it, but there’s so much more that I can’t stand:

  • I didn’t realize how much I love the Windows Phone customizable menu until I wasn’t using it. I forget who once called the iPhone (and Android) menu “Program Manager Reborn” but it’s totally apt. Plus, all the chrome (even in iOS 7) just feels cluttered and junky now.
  • Speaking of cluttered, Apple sometimes takes the minimalist thing too far. One button is not enough. This, I think, Windows Phone nails perfectly. Android’s four buttons feel extraneous, but Apple’s “let there be one” approach feels like dogma that won’t bow to practicality.
  • The last time I used an iPod, it was still black & white. I can’t stand iTunes as a music manager, and I don’t like the device-side interface – so I won’t be putting any music on the CSD. No advantage there.
  • Likewise, you think I’m going to dink around with the camera on the CSD when I have the glorious Lumia camera to use? Get real, human.
  • The on-screen keyboard sucks. Part of this is because the device is so much smaller, but part of it is that Apple doesn’t seem to understand little touches that improve usability. On Windows and Android, when you touch the shift key, the case of the letters on the keys changes correspondingly; Apple is all, “LOL…NOPE!”
  • Even the Mail client irritates me, even though I haven’t managed to put my finger on exactly why yet.

So is there anything I like about the device? Sure! I’m not a total curmudgeon:

  • Build quality looks impressive. If the CSD wasn’t as flimsy as a communion wafer, I would be blown away by the feel of the device. It’s got good clean lines and understated elegance, like that suit from the expensive Saville Row tailors.
  • Power usage. The CSD goes through battery very slowly. Now part of that is because I’m not using it, but Apple has had time to optimize their game, and they do it very well indeed.
  • The simple little physical switch to put the CSD into silent mode. This is exactly the kind of physical control EVERY smart phone should have, just like every laptop should have a physical switch to disable the radios (not just a hotkey combination).

This is where I’m at, with a fistful of suck. Even an Android phone would be better than this. I’ve got no-one to blame but myself, and it’s not going to get any better. So look forward to more of these posts from time to time as I find yet another aspect of the CSD that drives me crazy.

“But Devin,” I hear some of you Apple-pandering do-gooders say, “You’re just not used to it yet. Give it time. You’ll grow to love it.”


A Keenly Stupid Way To Lock Yourself Out of Windows 8

Ready for this amazing, life-changing technique? Lets go!

  1. Take a domain-joined Windows 8 computer.
  2. Logon as domain user 1.
  3. Notice that the computer name is a generic name and decide to rename it.
  4. Don’t reboot yet, because you have other tasks you want to do first.
  5. Switch users to domain user 2.
  6. Perform more tasks.
  7. Go to switch back to user 1. You can’t!
  8. Try to log back in as user 2. You can’t!

Good for hours of fun!

Let’s Test It!

I’ve been studying karate for nearly five years now, and I don’t think I’ve shared this story before. When we’re sparring, students are required to wear the appropriate protective gear. No head shots, for example, if you’re not wearing head protection. For males, a sports cup is mandatory, for reasons that probably don’t require elaboration.

When I was buying a cup, I had no clue what to get. The only sports I’d done as a kid were one season of track in high school and some Pee-Wee/Little League baseball. I’d never had to deal with a cup before. I’d heard lots of horror stories about them: they were uncomfortable, didn’t fit, and didn’t really keep blows from hurting as much as they reduced the pain to manageable levels.

No, thanks. This geek did some research and came up with the Nutty Buddy. This was a cup whose inventor stood by his product by taking 90mph fast balls from a pitching machine to his crotch. After reading around, I was sold. It was more expensive, but hey, not feeling soul-crushing pain is worth it, right?

Here’s what happened next, as I sent it to Nutty Buddy:

My order arrived on the day of a sparring class. That night, I prepped for class a little early so I could figure out how to get my Nutty Buddy put in place. Having bought the “Build Your Own Package” option, I had everything I needed, and soon I was all dressed in my gi, ready to go. I walked out from my bedroom to the living room to pick up my gear bag and was met by my son, then 11 years old. “Do you have it on?” he asked eagerly and I nodded. “Great, let’s test it!” he said as he executed a perfect front snap-kick to the boys. It was a great kick, too – one of those kind you can’t be thinking about, you just have to let it rip. He immediately realized what he’d done and started apologizing, but was shocked when I laughed. The only thing I’d felt was the shock. The Nutty Buddy lived up to the hype, and I knew it was worth every penny.

No matter how prepared you are for life, sometimes you only know whether something’s going to work by just doing it.

North Pole data leakage woes

Not even old Saint Nick is immune from the need for a good data management and protection regime.

First, we have confirmation that his naughty and nice database has been hacked.

Now, there are credible rumors that the North Pole CIO has been covering up a years-long, systemic problem with Santa losing mobile devices. According to unidentified sources, the list of allegations includes:

  • Lack of priority for safeguarding key data, especially through mobile systems. Recent refits for the sled have focused on tracking transponders for “greater publicity”, but no corresponding upgrades to mobile IT systems. These systems are specifically characterized as “obsolete 286 systems running DOS and home-brew Paradox applications written by some dentist in his spare time.”
  • Habitual problems with smartphones. In order to ensure inexpensive world-wide access, Santa’s system includes the use of multiple handsets from strategically selected regional carriers. “In the last several years, Santa has yet to come back from his Christmas Eve run without having lost at least three of his devices,” one insider claims, “and of course we don’t have remote wipe capabilities. That would require him spending money.”
  • Lax information and network practices, including no formal security policies or processes. Remote accesses aren’t even protected via SSL, according to sources, since “anyone who’s so cheap they haven’t updated stock PR footage of elves making wooden toys isn’t likely to shell out for a respected SSL certificate or PKI infrastructure.”

It will take time to gather confirmation of these claims, but if they are true, it shows a shocking disregard for basic security best practices at the North Pole.

Three observations, two confessions, and an apology

Observation The First: only paying a touch over $2/gallon for gas feels positively sinful.

Observation The Second: one way to survive Seattle winters is to occasionally say “screw it”, roll the window down in the car, and let the cold wet air in while pretending it’s an 80-degree summer day with blue skies.

Observation The Third: If you’re cutting back on caffeine intake and you’re down to approximately two bottles/cans of Coke a day, one should really not have one’s morning bottle of Coke during the morning commute and the thoughtlessly purchase and drink a 20oz. mocha latte (one of the approximately two a year I have) during the latter portion of that same commute. Hot damn, I can levitate right now.

Confession The First: I really like Katy Perry’s Hot N Cold. Sure, the song is pop glitter, but it’s fun pop glitter, and it makes me squee like a little girl every time I turn it on.

Confession The Second: When I say that I don’t dance, what I really mean is that I don’t dance standing up. I’ll dance at my car or desk, but I’ll do it in a way that’s deliberately bad and frightening, because I like to mess with people. You’d be amazed how well a properly timed desk dance can clear out your office of annoying project managers and co-workers.

Apology*: For the residents and fellow commuters along Avondale road between 8:20 and 8:23am who heard and saw a red Ford Focus (with a Decepticon icon on the hood) blasting Hot N Cold out the driver’s window at high volumes, I plead guilty. That was me in my overcaffeinated, car-dancing bliss. Same to the folks along 124th, especially at the 124th/Woodinville-Redmond Road intersection, who were treated to the same, only with Cyndi Lauper’s Into the Nightlife, from 8:31 to 8:34am.

* I don’t know if this is a real apology, because I can’t guarantee I won’t do it again. At least I’m honest.


On my drive into work this morning, one of the local radio stations played “November Rain” (Guns n Roses) “Rock Me Amadeus” (Falco) back to back.

That’s some serious musical whiplash. That’s like having bacon-caramel pie. I like bacon, and I like caramel, but not together.

The Euphemism Lexicon

Over time, any group of people and friends starts to develop its own set of euphemisms and textual substitutions.

Here are some of ours.

  • home friendship appliance — a sex toy. I forget where we ran across this one — somebody in the blogosphere was saying it sounded like a fine example of Japanese-produced English — but we like it and made it our own.
  • network performance testing — a common sysadmin term for “staying late and playing games on the work network.” Stephanie got very mad when she found out what this meant one time I came home at midnight from Premier1 after a long bout of Quake 2.
  • overdue personal issues — a polite notification from one spouse or partner that the other is expected to spend some serious time in bed with them soon (usually that evening).

Dear iPod

Dear iPod,

Over the years that I’ve had you (as your second owner), we’ve had our rocky times. You’ve worked well with both my Windows and Mac workstations — that’s a plus. Your battery life is damn near useless (and I understand that’s not really your fault), but with the appropriate adapter therapy we’ve been able to work around that. I hardly ever use you with headphones, but that iTrip is a righteous score that allows you to rock the car, the house, and any other FM radio within distance. True, you’re only a 3G classic model, but you’ve got 40GB and I’ve never even come close to running you out of space. All in all, we’ve been good for each other. Today, however, was something entirely different.

I now, of course, realize that you picking Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life when I was driving home through Woodinville was really a message. But I didn’t get that message until after we got on to 522 through the funeral procession and slowly drove by the column of funeral-goers. Just as we drew even with the hearse, you switched to Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping. Specifically, you blared the following line out the open windows:

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You’re never going to keep me down.

That, dear iPod? Total awesome.

I was thinking about getting a newer model, but now? Now we’ll see what we can do to replace that no-good battery of yours. You’ve still got years of life left in you with just a little TLC from me. You, iPod, rock.



Geeks will get this. The rest of you — not so much.

All Hell is breaking loose in the Seattle area today because it’s snowing.

Hello, people. We get a lot of rain here. This is the Pacific Northwest. There are real, honest-to-goodness volcanic mountains here (remember that lovely “view” thing you keep talking about to jack up your real estate?). Part of this means that during what is nominally known as “springtime” we get highly variable weather, including flurries of snow. This winter has been an unusually cold and wet winter, so the chances of us getting snow at the end of March are in fact higher (that is, 100%).

Here at work, we have big fat flakes mixed with rain, but the snow is not (yet) sticking like it is elsewhere in the Puget Sound (like the roads home, oh joy…) This led me to the following observation to a cow-orker: “It’s not really snow, it’s just rain with 64-bit extensions.”

Smart kid

Alaric has a few close female friends at school. In fact, he’s got so many we were slightly teasing him tonight about his harem. Then we had to explain to him what a harem was and assure him that we were not in fact accusing him of having multiple (or even one) sex slaves.

Then I told him that of course he wasn’t like that, because he was a serial monogamist. He agreed, then asked me what that was. I pointed out that there was monogamy and then there was polygamy, and asked him if knew what either of them were.

At that point, Treanna piped up and told us she thought she knew what they were:

“Monogamy is when you’re smart, and polygamy is when you’re dumb!”

Without any offense intended to those who might be reading and practicing some form of polyamory..that’s brilliant. I’m still wiping the tears from my eyes.

Arvin Clone!!!

I’m down at the Seattle Convention Center today for day one of a four-day training conference I’m attending for work. One of the gentlemen in the registration line behind me looks just like Arvin Sloane (a character from the TV show Alias, for those who don’t get the name).

I’m keeping a close eye out now for weird artifacts, people in suits (they’d stick out here like a sore thumb), Jennifer Garner in a tight dress (probably won’t happen; there’s no nightclub), or the eye of Rambaldi. I’ll keep you posted. 

I’ll check that out right away

I buy and read more than a few technical books. Big shock, I know, but what can you do? I have a local bookstore I like to visit, but I’ll often use Amazon as well when I’m not in a tearing hurry to get a particular book in my hands.

One of Amazon’s value-added features is that they’ll send you recommendations on books you might like to buy, based on the books you’ve bought or told them you own, combined with the buying patterns of other people who’ve bought the books you bought. Recently, they sent me a suggestion so on-target, so brilliant, I had to laugh:

Thanks, Amazon! I’ll check that out right away! It’s right over there on my bookshelf, about 10 feet away from me. And who knows…maybe I can get the authors to sign it for me!

Only in Seattle

Stephanie told me about this posting on Craig’s List Seattle. I didn’t believe her that it was real, so I had to go find it for myself.

Posting here because who knows how long the entry will be active, and I want this sucker immortalized. Live in infamy forever, thanks to the power of the Internet!

Anybody out there interested in hiking the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail as part of a role-playing group?

The two ideas people are voting on right now are Lord of the Rings and Lost. The idea is that everyone who goes would have a character that they’d pretty much be, exclusively, for the duration.

 For those of you who don’t understand the full inanity, somebody is looking for a group of people to dress up and pretend to be Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Frodo, Gandalf, and company while going for a hike from Canada to Mexico. In costume. In character. The whole way.

I, for one, won’t be at all impressed with them unless they do it all with authentic equipment and clothing. No modern synthetics, fibers, or materials. No freeze-dried food. No firearms. The person playing Legolas damn well better be able to outrun those deer. That would make it fun.

Oh, crap. You know what I’ve gone and done? Invented a concept for a reality show. 

Brainlet: Is Peter Jackson poison or venom?

I was reviewing the difference between venom and poison with Alaric and Treanna earlier:

Me: Okay, so if you got stung by a bee, is that venom or poison?
Treanna: Venom!
Me: Right! If you got bit by a snake?
Alaric: Venom!
Me: Very good! What if you drank a jar of formaldehyde?
Treanna: Poison!
Me: What about eating toadstools?
Alaric: Poison!
Me: What about a scorpion whacking you on the foot?
Treanna: Venom!
Me: What if a big guy with a beard kisses you on the forehead? [kisses Alaric on forehead]
Treanna: That’s not either!
Alaric: That’s a good thing!
Me: What if the guy is Peter Jackson?
Alaric: [thinks for a moment]…venom!

Brainlet: Artist Matchup!

[Editor’s note: this Artist Matchup is inspired by a bit of a phone conversation between Steph, our friend Andrew, and me.]

Announcer: Tonight, on Artist Matchup: Escher vs. Picasso!

Announcer: In this corner, the mathematically brilliant and recursive M. C. Esher!

Announcer: And in this…corner…noted cubist, Pablo Picasso!

Escher: Hey, Picasso, pull yourself together!

Picasso: What’s your angle on this, Escher?

Announcer: How will this matchup end? In a draw? Stay tuned after this message from our sponsor!

…and now I know. Right. Thanks.

Thanks to Ken Burnside of Ad Astra Games and the magic of the Pyramid chat, I now know this special bit of ferret lore:

AdAstraGames says, “In general the number of excess ferrets in the household goes up at the square of the number of actual ferrets in the house.  Thus, one ferret is one too many.  Two ferrets are four too many, three ferrets are nine too many…”

…y’know, that explains a lot about my sister.

Brainlet: Random X Table


Introducing a new category of my blog: Brainlets. After all, my brain is scary, and I need to share that with you. Besides, Steph has been threatening to hurt me if I don’t start keeping a blog of all the random weird shit I come up with and use to make her laugh.

So, here’s the first brainlet: Random X Table.

A few months back, Steph found herself about to go crazy trying to decide what to make for dinner. I don’t remember which RPG project I was working on at the time, but I was exasperated enough to take two minutes and draw up the Random Dinner Table. You roll two six-sided dice: the first told you what meat you were using (chicken, ground beef, steak, etc.) and the second told you what the rest of the meal was (pasta with red sauce). Although it was a joke, it worked quite well, so I decided to keep my eyes open for opportunities to use this technique elsewhere; after all, gamers are used to rolling on tables to make decisions.

In late July, I had the opportunity to draw up another table: the Random Platter Table. Steph was preparing for a tea party and dithering badly about which platter to use:

“I just noticed a downside to having several different serving platters. I don’t quite have enough to make deciding really easy. I am having trouble deciding which one will work best for the lemon bars.”

So, again, I drew upon my valuable RPG freelancer skills to save the day:

Random Platter Table
Roll 1d6 to determine results

  1. This one.

  2. That one.

  3. The other one.

  4. Get Alaric to decide.

  5. Get Treanna to decide.

  6. Roll again.

This is dedicated to everyone who said I’d never get anything useful out of sitting around and playing/reading/writing “those damned Satanic games.” HA!

(Note: the Random Dinner Table has not been included because I’m too lazy to code up the HTML table. One of these days real soon now I won’t be so pathetic; when that happens, the table will be posted and linked. Just remember, Jesus is coming back soon too.)