The season is ripest it has ever been for a centrist candidate when the parties start balkanizing into far right, center right, center left, and far left. It reflects the balkanization of our popular culture with the onset of the internet. We are used to microscheduling our entertainment first with TIVO/DVR’s then now with streaming video and youtube. Are you big box or Amazon? Are you eBay or Woot? In this setting, there less of a chance of a great unifier in chief, but a certainty of a great blandifier in chief. No Steve Jobs like leader is possible, but any number of lumpenproletariat-derived mouth breathers in sack-like dark suits could fill the job description when the market is triangulated properly.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
The Attraction of Tiny Computers
If you look at sites like dynamism.com, you will see a hidden world of tiny computers that come primarily from Japan and South Korea. At one time, most personal digital assistants came in the clam shell form factor like the Psion Series 5 and Sharp Zaurus, and it was their combination of portability and reasonable touch typability that kept me a fan all of these years. It’s just that Americans don’t like tiny cars, televisions, and definitely not tiny computers, and they fell off the market here. Thankfully, they are still popular in other parts of the world and super portable, even pocketable computers with full keyboards are available.
The Sony Vaio P is an example of one of these tiny computers that never really caught on –the US public just doesn’t get it. One review complained it didn’t fit well in any particular category –neither smartphone, tablet, netbook or laptop, but I beg to differ. These are computers perfectly suited to me and many other like minded mostly Asian guys based on the current source of these computers.
The Vaio P is definitely a looker –Sony has always emphasized form over function and this one which I picked up second hand from a colleague reflects that attitude in spades. It is the last one made, and it has a 128gB solid state drive (SSD) which in normal computers greatly speeds up function. The top cover is a faux alligator textured plastic with silver lettering making the device look like an expensive lady’s clutch purse –I know, I know, but I picked it up at less than half price. The keys are small but perfectly functional for touch typing. The pointing nubbin in the center of the keyboard, a prime feature of Thinkpads, works okay but the silvery plastic cap has fallen off revealing the rubber eraser head underneath which I’m okay with. There is also an optical mouse on the screen with right and left buttons to the left of the screen which would work okay if I was thumb typing, but with the width of this device, is basically useless.
The screen is incredibly detailed and pixel dense, but at the cost of really tiny lettering which I’m okay with but most US users are not. Windows 7 looks great on this machine. Boot up is meh –the boot up times are not consistent with an SSD, making me think that Sony either cheaped out on some component or just never fixed the drivers. On my Macbook Air running Windows 7, it boots up under 15 seconds, but on this machine, cold boot is over 20 seconds and not much faster than prior experiences I had with netbooks. The battery life is apparently miserable at 2-3 hours –this is again Sony going for looks over function. An extended battery is available but hard to find on line as every Vaio P purchaser has grabbed one and Sony no longer offers it.
The computer is crawling with crapware –not all of it put on by my colleague. Manufacturers do it to make money, but at the expense of degrading their product. It’s as if you buy a car and stuck in the glove compartment are trials and subscription offers, occupying the back seat are boxes of trial gadgets for “improving” your car. Don’t get me started on the stickers –I got rid of them first thing as they uglify what is otherwise a very spiffy piece of kit. That is why I love Apple products –they’re made with the loving care of a bespoke tailored suit, a hand made golf club, or premium furniture –even the insides, if you have access to it, are pretty. The only problem is that Apple does not make a super tiny, pocketable laptop. Even with the garish black gator skin top cover doesn’t bother me too much because I’m not a Starbucks goer.
Why do I even need this thing? Windows 7 on the move. The Macbook Air doesn’t fit in my white coat pocket, but this will. It also has a SD card slot which is handy for processing and sending pictures. I’m already shopping for the 4cell extended battery –seems like the original Sony batteries are off market and I’ll have to settle for a Shenzen special off eBay –the last one I got for a Dell hackintosh I used to have didn’t fit until I drilled some holes into it but worked great afterwords. The seller admitted it was a problem but you get what you pay for.
Addendum 11-23-11: The specs on this point to it being one of the last Vaio P series made -it has an Atom Z540 processor going at 1.87GHz, 2GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. It comes loaded with Windows 7 Home Premium. Having used it now for two days, I think the complaint of poor battery life with the stock battery applies with heavy multimedia and internet usage -stuff I would normally do on the iPad. With the Wifi and Bluetooth turned off via a handy switch on the side, the battery goes about 4 hours. I have an extended 4 cell battery on order from China -always an iffy proposition, but should work. The cool thing I discovered about the device is a fast-boot browser only mode that launches a minibrowser without booting into Windows -I’m assuming its a Linux variant. It has a Chrome OS feel without any of the widgets -I haven’t run it purely in this mode and can’t tell you if battery life is any better, but the browser works for checking email, reading casual news. It could work to access Google Docs for composition, and has a link to Evernote (note to self -Evernote will be available feature on every wired device on the planet in ten years). This quick launch mode has its own hardware button along with a recovery mode which also has its own button, and a third mode which I haven’t figured out yet. I did remove a bunch of programs during my de-crapware-ification and may have eliminated this feature, but I’m not missing it. It’s so anti-Apple, this abundance of hardware buttons, but the geek in me likes it very much.
I got Outlook running with my work Exchange account without a hitch, and all my other accounts work okay. I’m getting over the faux gator skin cover on top slowly, although I am lurking on eBay to find a broken series P laptop to replace it. Flat black or white would be fine. People put these up for sale occasionally for parts. The pointing stick was never a favorite of mine going all the way back to their introduction in the mid nineties on the IBM Thinkpads. The optical mouse is atrocious, and I’ve dug up a mini-sized two button USB mouse to use with the device. The tiny screen is not for everyone -a lot of people will get frustrated and will get eyestrain from it. The fact that Sony
packed it with pixels on a very bright screen makes it readable for me even when the letters are the size of sesame seeds (a Korean idiom). I’m still puzzled why the device seems sluggish even with the SSD which is capacious while empty. There are two slots in the front, one for an SD card which can be placed flush, and another for Sony’s failed Memory Stick format.
I have heard on the internet that this device will run Linux well, but I would like to keep that bottled up for now. More intriguing is the new ability of Virtual Box to run Mac OS X Snow Leopard. That would be great! Will update.
I don’t think we’ll ever see the utility of a Psion series 5mx, but very few people ever agreed that it was a good thing to be able to touch type on a pocketable device. The only people who seem to agree are Japanese salarymen, the odd English physician, and occasionally people in South America. I’ve included a list of very small clamshell computers which have gone extinct this year. I don’t think we’ll ever see them again.
|Viliv N5||Windows XP/7||600-700 new|
|UMID MBook||Windows XP/7||600-700 new|
|Sharp Netwalker||Linux Ubuntu||600-700 new|
|Sony Vaio P Series||Windows XP/7||300-900 used|
|NEC 900||Windows CE||100-300 used|
|Psion netbook||EPOC32||100-300 used|
|Psion 5mx||EPOC32||50-300 used|
One of the methods of creating strong passwords involves creating 26×10 grids of random alphanumerics on an excel spreadsheet and saving it -this is your grid. You then choose a starting point a2 for example, and then your password is the 7 to 10 characters that you follow on the grid in a memorized, stereotypical pattern. you can print the grid out and carry it -without the knowledge of the starting point and your typical pattern, it’s very hard to crack, yet easy for you to recall if you forget the password. it creates a short hand for your passwords -for example, instead of remembering le2kLkd00Ox&, you just have to remember the starting point Z6 for example and even write Z6 down if you must.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
The picture above is processed from an iPhone picture of the 9th hole at Wakonda Club seen from the driving range. It was processed using an Android app called Paper Camera (available on Android Market). It brings a bit of iPhon-ish fun to Android. It has a packet of desktop quality photo filters that it can run live on your view screen (there is a delay between shutter and access, so kids will not look as they were framed).
The filters are not all black and white, but of the initial shots I’ve taken, the black and white ones have come out the best. For a $1.99 , it turns my Android tablet into a very fun camera, something usually reserved for iPhone.
The camera is an unsung feature of smart phones that iOS has basically covered in terms of quality, convenience, and access with its wonderful pictures and Photostream. But Google is competing with built-in Picasa exporting from its Gallery app. Unfortunately Gallery is a mess as it offers up not just your pictures but also every jpeg available in the drives including those associated with icons and cached web pages. It’s for geeks, but it’s also getting better and more iOS-ish every day.
I recently saw advertisement for a 16gB flash drive for $8 and I smiled as I thought about how cheap memory had gotten compared to twelve years ago when I bought a 32mB flash drive for $200. It is a nice benefit of Moore’s law, but it also brought a slight shudder as I thought about its provenance. Several years ago, there was a rash of malware transmitted from flash memory embedded in digital picture frames. It was a ham-handed attempt at infecting computers world wide, but it made me concerned that most of our technology comes from China. It also gave me the idea of maintaining an unconnected computer, one that requires no internet connection and would serve as a repository of important information and private thoughts.
The Chinese understand this issue as a national security one, and recently announced the creation of its first homegrown supercomputer. Less noticed was the fact that all the processors were custom silicon using custom instruction sets -without knowledge of these instructions, it would be devilishly hard to create programs to enter, monitor, and transmit information. It is the ultimate in unconnected computer and its appearance should be as dismaying as finding a black monolith pulsating with data in the Serengeti. With custom silicon and architecture and an unknown operating system -likely a custom written and compiled Unix, this computer stands apart.
My son’s favorite show is Star Wars Clone Wars. The loyal and brave clones in this series are doomed because ultimately, they are designed to betray their Jedi masters when they are most vulnerable. The Sith Lord enacts Order 66, which causes the Clones to turn on their Jedi leaders. It makes me wonder, how much of the processing power in government and military hardware is sourced from China, and if our insistence on transparency, openness, and interconnectedness is an exposed Achilles heel. Is my iPhone really mine, or does it serve several competing masters? Will our next Pearl Harbor or 9/11 be all the electricity and cell service turning off with planes and satellites crashing and my Facebook telling me to go quickly to the place where the planes and satellites will be crashing?
The only way to really know your computer is secure is to make your own computer using chips and circuitry of known provenance. For example, if you created a parallel array of G4 processors made in California with graphics processors made in California, and running an OS that you can inspect line by line and compile yourself, you might be safe. Going further, you can go completely off the grid and eschew technology and society, keeping your own counsel and recording your thoughts in Moleskine notebooks with pencils stolen from golf courses.
Plausible? Of course not. What China has done is create the equivalent structure of a walled city in its completely home-brewed computer. It sends a message and how you interpret it is up to you.
So much has been written in the short time since Steve Job’s death, that I will refrain from expressing my personal grief at his passing. I just finished his biography by Walter Isaacson. I read between cases and into the night. The most recent memory I have of Steve (he is now all of ours to refer to personally) is watching his introduction of the iPad2, which I watched on-line this past spring. The final image was what stuck with me –the intersection of the liberal arts and technology. That is why Apple products are so wonderful –they liberate the individual to perform insanely great things with computers that were frankly difficult or impossible before. It has also inspired me to think about health care’s relationship to technology.
Modern health care is about delivering technology. I can now repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm with stent grafts delivered via two small incisions smaller than the width of my pinky where traditionally, I had to make a long incision on the belly. These patients go home the next day. Small computers embedded in pacemakers can sense arrhythmias, correct them, and send reports to physicians by internet. Drugs can be tailored to the genetic makeup of tumors. You can have your genome scanned for disease risk.
But in the practice, on the back end, health care is very analog, very dependent on paper and pen, dictation, and text. The best medical notes read like compelling tone poems but can only be composed by direct speech or penmanship. The notes generated with the assistance of computers end up formatted for other computers and insurance companies. I generally skip to the human generated summary section and plan of care, yet even here, most EMRs (electronic medical records) try to parse meaning by stuffing what is analog into digital cubbies. Electronic medical records are ripe for reimagining.
When I want to know the temperature in Orlando, where my father lives, I can ask my smartphone, “What is the weather in Orlando, Florida?” and the temperature pops up along with weather forecast for today, this week, and so on. My email, my contacts, my friends are instantly available. When it comes to my patients, it is an entirely different story.
The problem is that hospital information services serve many needs and therefore devolve into the least common denominator in order to be used in an infinite variety of scenarios. Often, during the course of decades, legacy systems and databases serving different aspects of patient care create an alphabet soup of programs, each with their own security needs and access methods.
For example, in most hospitals, to look up blood tests, you have to log into the computer, then log into several layers of programs then look up the patient, select the correct admission, then select the laboratories -all the while remembering multiple long and complex passwords which you are not allowed to write down. You repeat the process to look up x-ray images, and chart notes from other physicians if they happened to have been scanned in. I can find out the location of every Starbucks in Manhattan and have them mapped out, but checking patient information is a trip back to 1985 in terms of technology. On top of all of this, hospital computer programs are simply ugly. Steve would not approve.
Steve’s philosophy of vertical integration -of creating the software, hardware, store, and services, created simplicity for the end user. It made the technology work magic by being carefully thought out from top to bottom. Simple takes a great deal of effort, but the returns are clear. What a great day it would be if I could just ask my smartphone, “What is Mrs. Smith’s potassium over the past week?” and get an answer.
The answer, of course, is to begin the work needed to get to that point. And that is the great lesson in Steve Job’s life -not fortune, nor influence, but that beautiful simplicity takes a great deal of focus and effort. Thank you Steve for showing us how.