Archive for the ‘ tech ’ Category

7 Obsolete Tech Terms That We’re Stuck With (For Now)

I’m a little embarrassed in that I don’t quite know what this post is about. Or rather, I lack a succinct way to describe it. It involves technology, and terms we are trapped into using that no longer make sense, or never did. Not that I’m against their use, but I’d also love to see new terms be adopted to take their place. Anyway:

Rewind: In decades past, video and audio entertainment was distributed in the form of plastic cartridges, wherein content was contained on spools of magnetic tape. To cut the pretense, this is about VHS and cassette tapes. The process of rewinding a recently-played tape was lengthy, noisy, and in some cases actually needed a standalone device (or a pencil). It was a process so tenuously avoided that video rental proprietors had to resort to rhyming pleas and threats of fines to stimulate their customers do it.

vhs

I made product demos and everything, but somehow, it never caught on…

Fast forward to today (see what I did there?), and the term persists in a metaphorical sense. The simplest way to request a return to a previous point in a video or audio selection is to “rewind” it. The persistence of the universal “Rewind” (<<) and “Fast Forward” (>>) symbols, faithfully on either side of the still-relevant Pause (| |) button encourages the continuation of the current vocabulary, but already simpler, more accurate requests to “skip back” or “go back” are creeping into the lexicon (my personal vote is for “track back,” by the way).

But fans of rewind, fear not… as long as sewing enthusiasts (and cats) need balls of yarn, there will always be some analog item that needs rewinding.

Ring (verb): Bells, alarms, and telephones do it. There are other terms that can be applied to the former two: alarms can “buzz,” bells can “jingle,” both can “sound.” Alarms can oxymoronically “go on” and “go off.” But what can a telephone do to indicate an incoming call, but ring? It is such a natural term to use that a native English speaker will probably not even hear the verb “ring” as metaphorically relating to the literal noun from of a metal ring, but it is there. To witness it for yourself, drop a metal ring (use a thick wedding band for best results) on a hard surface. Riiiiinnnnnng.

Now that phones, use digital soundbytes in order to sound, and lack a physical “ringer,” the term has become completely symbolic. Interestingly, the creation of words like “ringtone” ensure that the metaphor will survive well into the foreseeable future.

Scroll: As a method for keeping lengthy records, scrolls were a significant step up from chiselled tablets, but started to go out of fashion as soon as bound books became economically feasible. Yet, as with “ring”, this common action used to move through a digital document lacks any other generally-accepted term. As the tablet form factor gains popularity over the more traditional desktop and laptop, the method of scrolling is taking on even more resemblance to its antiquated origins: we need to actually move our fingers, hands and forearms now.

If a passage is long enough that it goes off the bottom or side of a display screen (that notion itself is symbolic—there is nothing “off the edge” of a screen), how do you get there? Perhaps one could “page down” or “arrow down,” but those terms are awkward, and lose all meaning on a tablet.

One term that may start to encroach on scroll is “swipe, though its staying power has yet to be determined.

Phone: Denotatively, this word has always just been a colloquialism for telephone. Connotatively, the image implied by the word “phone” shifts to represent the most popular form factor, and other types of phones must be specified. In the last 10-15 years, one would assume “phone” referred to a landed, touch-tone telephone; a reference to a cellular/mobile phone would be specified. Now, the word is in transition, where cellular phone is becoming the default assumption), and hard-wired phones have become “land-lines.” Even before that transition finished, we now verbally differentiate “smart phones” from other types of cellular phones.

Icon: The word’s classical definition denotes an image of Christ, or of a saint, but the only definition even somewhat commonly-used in English is to describe a pictorial representation of a symbolic link to a file or program… and even then, most people only say it when one goes missing!

Impressive, for a word alternatively defined as “an object of uncritical devotion.” [Merriam-Webster].

icon

Jesus Saves (his shortcuts to desktop…)

Icons are almost as old as the Graphical User Interface, but recently, software developers have been all but hostile to shortcut icons. “Tile” is becoming the preferred term, coinciding with the growth of tablet interfaces like Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Microsoft’s much-hated “Metro” interface. Many Linux environments (GNOME 3, xfce, and Unity) have eschewed icons altogether.

Connection (on it’s way to meaninglessness): In a wired world, a continuous closed circuit is required for any electromechanical device to function; therefore a “connection” requires physical contact between two or more points. This would make concepts like a ‘wireless connection’ oxymoronic, yet the word is used metaphorically.

Interestingly, the notion of a symbolic connection, as in an understanding between two individuals, is nothing new. As the world becomes increasingly wireless, the unseen-but-evidenced digital connection between our devices begins to mirror the way we, as individuals, “connect” with each other verbally, and emotionally.

Disc/Disk:

save

After magnetic tape reels, virtually all computer storage was stored on disks. The advent of the hard disk drive made long-term internal storage viable; software began to move from floppy disks to CD-ROM; music moved from cassette tapes to CDs, movies went through VHS to DVDs. Now, whether it’s in a USB drive, flash memory on portable media player or smartphone, or a solid state drive, data storage is breaking free of the limits imposed by a spinning disk. This term won’t disappear from the language, but may well be seeing its last days in technology use.

Start Me Up: My Windows vs. Linux Boot Showdown

Although I’ve set up dual-boot systems for other people before, I’d never made a Windows/Linux machine for my personal use before (that sentence probably has the potential for of a whole different post). The setup was relatively nightmare-free… but afterwards, I thought I might be dealing with the most embarrassing possible situation for a shameless Linux promoter: Windows seemed to be booting faster than Linux. Despair ensued.

“But wait,” I pondered to myself. “Psychology is a powerful thing. Windows 7 ‘shows’ you something almost immediately: the dancing Microsoft logo during startup, desktop icons show up waaaay before you can actually click on them, etc. Mint shows you a black screen during boot, and more black after you ether your password until the desktop is ready.”

The difference is subtle, but effective...

The difference is subtle, but effective…

Thankfully, stopwatches are not vulnerable to psychological ploys. The results speak for themselves:

Windows 7 Home Premium x64 SP1 (fully patched, no anti-virus)

Boot menu to login 29.8s Range = 1.9s
Boot menu to responsive Desktop 69.8s

54.2s

Range = 48.4s

Range = 3.4s

Shutdown 18.9s N/A

Linux Mint 13 x64 (Fully patched)

Boot menu to login 26.4s Range = 0.7s
Boot menu to responsive Desktop 36.6s Range = 0.3s
Shutdown 7.6s N/A

Method:

Hardly scientifically rigorous; I just booted both systems 3 times and averaged the results (I only timed the shutdowns once, though). Once, Windows 7 took nearly twice as long to become responsive; I ran the numbers with and without that trial (hence the red entry).

Determining “responsiveness” is a little tricky. But, faithful to real world conditions, I just tried to open the default web browser (Firefox 18) as soon as I saw the icon, and waited until it opened AND populated. It’s loading a cached start page in both cases, so these times were NOT reliant on my home network (but the computer is connecting to my wi-fi automatically: again, real-world conditions).

Interpretation:

The boot-to-login screen differences are modest, but consistent (Linux is about 15% faster).

The login-to-desktop results, though, are more interesting. My second trial of Windows 7 hung for a full 40 seconds. I was tempted to open task manager to see what was causing the trouble, but that could have made the response time take even longer, thus “dirtying” the results. Even ignoring that result, Linux has more than a 30% advantage over Windows, and a much tighter range (within the range of human error, in fact).

Windows defenders have plenty they could say here: Windows 7 came out 2 years before Mint 13, Windows was not installed from a clean Microsoft image (I used HP’s recovery image and manually removed all the bloat ware), but that’s not really the point: regardless of what was actually happening, it looked like Windows 7 was starting faster. I’m sure that’s intentional: Microsoft almost certainly spent money and development time talking about startup animations, sounds, load order, blah blah blah, all to create the perception of the best software they could sell.

Meanwhile, Linus Torvalds, and the folks at the GNU Project, RedHat, Canonical, the Document Foundation, Mozilla, the Linux Mint Team, and countless others just went out and made it. And I thank them.

Address to the Masses: A Tech Support Rant

Caution: Some PG-13 language. View in fullscreen at 720p or higher for best results.

Learn more:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaic_web_browser
http://recordmydesktop.sourceforge.net/about.php
https://www.virtualbox.org/

[This presentation was made with the help of free and open source software]

Dear Microsoft: A Geek rant

Dear Microsoft:

Find a way to bring your operating systems up-to-date in one run of Windows Update. It makes no sense that one can install Windows in 20 minutes, migrate gigabytes worth of user data in about the same amount of time, and then need to spend 3-4 hours running 15-20 passes of Windows Update in order to get the job done properly. It’s embarrassing. To that end, I’ve got some tips for you to help you out in this matter:

  • Service packs should be the first thing to show up, not the last. Make them mandatory if you have to. I do not even want the option of installing a tiny security patch from last year that was integrated… or even made obsolete, by the Service Pack that came out a month later.
  • If I’m getting a new application through Windows Update (e.g. anything related to Office, Silverlight, Internet Explorer, Power Shell, .NET Framework, Security Essentials, etc), I should receive the newest version of the application; none of this “security update for the thing you just installed” garbage.
  • I should never see updates for “Program version n” and the offer to install “Program version n+1″ in the same window. Ever.

Every Linux distribution had this figured out years ago. Even Mac OS X can be fully up-to-date in two runs (one run for the latest Combo Update, one for anything left over). If I install OS X 10.7.1 (can’t imagine why I would but I have done odder things), I can jump straight to the currently-recommended release of 10.7.3 without needing to change flights in 10.7.2-land.

I’d like to threaten to take my business elsewhere, but I’ve already done that. Most of your “customers,” however, whom I support both professionally and pro Deo, will probably never quit using your operating system as long as they own a desktop or laptop computer… or have a job. Here’s why you should care anyway, and it has nothing to do with your users. I can download (granted, illegally) a copy of any edition of Windows I want with the updates already built-in. They come out every week. Most hilariously, if it’s Vista or Windows 7, the updates were probably integrated into a factory image of Windows using your own highly respectable Windows AIK.

This makes Microsoft Windows is the only product I know where the pirated, so-called “counterfeit” copies floating around on the Internet are in fact superior to what you are prepared to offer for a fee.People who you would label hackers and criminals use your own tools to make their own job easier, and as an afterthought, share it over BitTorrent… illicitly, because that is the only option there is to “sharing” Windows. In the Open Source community, this is business as usual.

Once again, you are being upstaged by both your traditional competition (Apple) and the “alternative” (e.g. free) competition that you try hard to not take seriously. Take some pride in the product! You did it with Internet Explorer 9 (biggest tech shock of the new decade, so far). I think you meant to do it with Office 2010. Think you can squeeze out one more?

That is all.

–Strafe

</rant>

 

Black In Back: A Serious Look At Discriminatory Toilets

Last Christmas season, we were treated to a “product defect” so hilarious it bordered on the unreal: a certain line of Hewlett Packard webcams, featuring face-tracking algorithms (i.e. its focus follows you around the room) was demonstrated via YouTube that it didn’t work with black people. The greatest kick I received from this was that yet another previously unthought-of Google search term became popular: racist webcam.

Well, lately, I’ve run into a similar defect in my personal life. You see, in keeping with the corporate paradigm that it is unwise to let commoners do, or touch, anything for themselves, my employer has installed a line of self-flushing toilets. And boy do they ever. I take it they use an infra-red beam, or something similar, to detect whether the seat is occupied or not. Apparently, I’m invisible, or else I enter some quantum-like state of being in the bathroom, wherein my existence is conditional, because during the course of the average… um… visit… I am treated to about 4 unasked-for flushes.

As with all troubleshooting, I recognized the importance of testing for reproducibility; I needed to know who’s end (pun absolutely intended) the problem was on. I made an attempt to see if anyone else was being treated to these courtesy flushes. Gathering data proved to be a bit of a challenge, because asking the kinds of questions I needed to ask in a professional environment becomes an HR issue real quick. However, from what I could gather, no one else is having this problem. But what makes me unique among my coworkers? Conceding (reluctantly) that these toilets do not posses a bias towards good looks, prodigious senses of humor, or undeniable technical savvy, I figure the next best candidate is my monochromatic wardrobe.

To summarize: I think the commode, or rather, the sensor above it, has trouble seeing you if you’re wearing black.

Now I don’t know how HP solved their problems, but I think I see the most obvious solution: get rid of those stupid unusable seat covers and replace them with construction-crew reflector vests.

Together at Last

A final word on HP—I wonder what kind of HR problems they had when searching for a solution to the webcam problem? Is it legal/ethical to grab all the black guys on hand to test a particular problem? Or, in the name of political correctness, did they have to somehow make participation in the webcam fixing an equal-opportunity deal? Frankly, it seems that would be worse:

Strafe Reviews: The Apple iPad

Note: In the past few weeks, I have entertained at least two personal and one professional inquiry as to what, exactly, the iPad is. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel obligated to let my readers know that I do not now, nor do I ever plan on owning an iPad. Also, in spite of my job and personal interests, this blog is primarily for entertainment purposes and not a platform to promote/condemn products, or influence purchasing decisions. And to that end…

~Strafe Presents~

His humble, called-for, and factual review of the Apple iPad

Have you ever come across a pretzel, or perhaps a Cheerio, floating in an amount of liquid? You may have noticed how, through osmosis, the object becomes bloated, and useless. Now, imagine doing the same thing with an iPhone.

Congratulations. You now understand the iPad.

From http://www.apple.com/ipad, the device is for sale “starting at $499.” Price-wise, that puts it well into the “laptop” range. Or, the “netbook plus a decent non-Apple cell phone” range. Or the “let me build a moderately-impressive desktop computer, including operating system, from scratch, and maybe have enough left over for a cheap printer” range.

And you know you could do with any of the above alternative configurations, that you can’t on a iPad? Multitask.

Yeah, that’s right. If, as you’re reading this, you have music playing in the background, or an email client, or something printing, or even another browser window (and if you got here by means of Facebook or MySpace, odds are you do), you are currently outperforming the iPad. Just to demonstrate how fundamental the concept of multitasking is to the overall concept of the operating system:

Xerox got it.

Above is a picture of the Xerox Alto. Notice that not just the monitor is in black and white… it’s the whole picture. It was taken in 1973. Nixon was president. Star Wars was 4 years away. Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” was about to come out. And that computer is running multiple applications… graphical applications, at once.

You know what else the iPad is missing? USB support. So, as you’re reading this on your multitasking machine, there’s a good chance that there is something plugged into your computer via USB. A mouse, keyboard, printer, modem, flashdrive, camera, personal music player (including an iPod/iPhone).

It is perhaps not surprising that the “U” in “USB” stands for “Universal.” And aptly so. USB 2.0 is fast, reliable, and available on almost all hardware. Including cars. It may not always be the best port for every job, but it’s a pretty good port for most.

Apple may have great Bluetooth and 3G support, and great ability to sync with other Apple products (you do own other Apple products, right?), but when you decide to skimp on support for something non-ironically named universal, the implication is that you’re just creating your own universe.

There is a podcast out there celebrating this very fact.

I haven’t even mentioned things like the ability to play CDs/DVDs, physical keyboards (that don’t cost extra), ability to run Java applets, or, heck, the ability to purchase what would otherwise be a decently-manufactured piece of hardware and put your own software on it.

Ubuntu iPad

This might make me change my mind.

However, according to Apple’s tech spec’s, the iPad boasts at least one feature, the lack of which I have railed against in a previous post: more than one button.

Coming Soon: Site Construction

I’ll be taking this week to (hopefully) customize this site a bit… at least get some info into the “About Me” section. This will probably trump any new posts next week, but fear not! I will be (re)publishing a post From the Archives.