Simple>Complex

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Pictured above are the Blackberry Bold 9930 and the iPhone 4. They demonstrate two divergent approaches to design. The Blackberry has a full QWERTY keyboard and a few more buttons. The iPhone has famously the single button up front, a power, and volume rocker switch. There are people who swear by the keyboard and for them the Blackberry will always be king. Truth be told, there is an appeal to having a physical keyboard for typing out longer pieces, but all of this is trumped by the convenience of a single large screen. There is a principle laid out in The Innovator’s Dilemma (link) regarding disruptive technologies that is at play here.

The Blackberry represents the sustaining technology of an established company, RIM which has been putting out keyboarded email communicators since the days of beepers and the Clinton administration. It offers a load of features and the apparent love of corporate IT with its locked down security features. The iPhone and other copycat Android phones are the disruptive technology that paradoxically offers less features, an apparently less accurate virtual keyboard, and the ire of corporate IT and geeks in general for missing lots of buttons, but offers utility in its screen, simple interface, and applications which can turn the iPhone into an infinite variety of gadgets. With evolution of the virtual keyboard, and increasingly higher resolution screens, and soon to be introduced bigger screen, and an app store with over half a million apps, the iPhone is eating the Blackberry’s lunch.

This is played out again and again and the established companies invested in their sustaining technologies get rolled over by startups with disruptive technologies that initially offered less or inferior specifications but offered utility with simplification. In vascular surgery, this happened with endovascular technology which compared to classic open vascular surgery appears to offer inferior results on some measures, but offers the utility, particularly to patients, of less invasiveness, fewer dire complications, faster recoveries, and ability to reintervene with acceptable consequences.

The Blackberry Bold 9930 is likely the last of its proud kind –highly evolved, beautifully manufactured, but frankly crippled by trying to be more than it should be by adding touch features to its core product –keyboarded email and text. I was told that IT will be swapping all of these out for iPhone 5 in October.

Apple isn’t sitting on its hands either. It is disrupting itself with its change of screen size and aspect ratio, with its change from a 30 pin connector to a 9 pin connector, and its introduction of Siri. Siri, while initially viewed with enthusiasm, is being panned for often hilarious inaccuracies which ironically mirror the gaffs of its ancestor the Newton in handwriting recognition, but it is classic disruption. It offers the simplicity of NO KEYBOARD, and the promise of conversing with your technology in meaningful ways.

Which leads me to my last point in that in a shifting landscape, you have to be willing to adapt or face the fate of the wooly mammoth, the floppy disk, and even the Blackberry.

Addendum: August 15th -I’ve been using this for two days straight. The battery lasts nicely all day -a reflection of RIM’s parsimony with regard to push email, I think. Dropbox and Evernote apps work okay, but the small screen, as sharp as a tack, is still too small and landscape oriented to be useful. While I don’t mind reading at 5point font or less, and am impressed that the display is nearly Retina-display level pixel density, the lack of space is problematic. Also, no obvious way to number lock the keyboard, but the keyboard does contextually switch to a num lock state, I think. The limitation of the OS to 192mB of total application memory is painful to even think about in this day and age. I don’t think RIM has the time to get this right after wasting so much time getting it wrong.

 

Addendum: I do have to remark that the screen on the 9930 is amazingly bright and visible in bright daylight and at all angles. The newest downer of the day is when you update or install an app -you are asked to restart which can take upwards of 2 minutes.

Book Smart

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I’m a collector of books in vascular disease and golf. When I found out that Mr. Johnny Revolta was one of the great golf teachers of the 20th century and had authored a book, I started a search and found this first printing which had been a gift to someone who was a student of Mr. Revolta’s.

The reason why I jumped at this was the fact that I found synchronicity between my golf guru’s advice and the snippets of writing I found on the Internet. It was all from the premise that golf at its heart is a simple game.

This is in line with my other favorite golf books by Sam Snead and Fred Couples. An example of a book not to get because it will ruin your game is Ben Hogan’s book on his swing which looks more like an Army field manual for using some terribly ancient and complicated weapon.

This book is available as a instant reprint from Amazon, but costs three times as much. This one I got for 12 bucks feels like an overdue library book found under your recently deceased great uncle’s sofa. Which makes it even cooler.

Major Surgery -on a Mac Mini

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My Mac Mini, purchased in 2009, was beginning to choke on simple tasks and be generally slow as molasses, and I was considering retiring it. It was attached to our TV as our media player, but after trying Apple TV, I decided the latter was far superior, especially after the addition of Hulu+ to the mix of iTunes, Netflix, Youtube, Vimeo, MLB, and Photostream.

I had been using my MacBook Pro as my desktop, but found it to be more useful as an actual laptop, so I moved the Mac Mini to my desk but found it to be, well old. If it were a Windows based system, there would be no question where it would be headed -the recycling bin at Best Buy after I tore out the hard drive. But after I investigated the Mini, it turned out to have two problems -the 160 GB hard drive was nearly full and was a lowly 5400 RPM disk. Also, the stock Mini came with 2GB of RAM. The hard drive would need to be upgraded and I found a nice 750GB SATA drive spinning at 7200 RPM which would speed things up nicely and allow me to create a generous Boot Camp partition (lets me run Windows). The RAM was upgradeable to 8GB. Both upgrades ended up totally $150 from Other World Computing which specializes in upgrade packages for older Macs. To answer the obvious question -I declined using an SSD drive because it would be over $200 for a reasonably sized drive, and I wanted to keep costs down.

The instructions for surgery are on the internet -the OWC site’s videos are comprehensive, but start with the caveat that the upgrade should be done by a professional. If you can replace the batteries on a toddler bath toy, you can kick this. The upgrade was very easy and took all of 10 minutes after cloning the original drive to the new one (using Carbon Copy on trial, does need a SATA reader) which took a few hours. Booting up was noticeably quicker and the computer seemed happier after the brain transplant. I also took the opportunity to blow out a lot of accumulated dust in the machine.

After surgery, the “About This Mac” screen shows the new RAM.

The great thing from doing this was setting up Windows 7 in a Boot Camp partition which gives you a clean install of Windows. The Mac Mini is a GREAT Windows 7 machine, and runs very snappy.

One of the things I regret about the move to increasingly hermetic systems like iPad and MacBook Air and the recently released Retina Macbook is the loss of the ability to upgrade the Mac. This Mini is now good for another 3-5 years as long as Apple supports the upgrade to this system. As a Windows machine, it will probably not get Windows 8, but Windows 7 will be supported for the next 7-10 years if Windows XP is to be used as a rubric.

Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 7.0 -brief review

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The annoyingly named Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 7.0 came out last month and I couldn’t hold off picking it up because my other 7 inch Android tablet has been appropriated by my 3 year old for video watching. Turns out, while traveling, the 7inch tablet is easier to hold than an iPad. I have become a fan of the 7 inch form factor, and because most of my work is done in email, Evernote, and Dropbox, across multiple platforms, it really doesn’t matter what gadget I’m on, as long as these cloud services and apps are available.

I was first struck by this device as being more business oriented than previous tablets, having charcoal grays that would look good in a boardroom. The front is Gorilla glass, the back is a high quality plastic that feels good in the hands. There are front and back cameras and Instagram works fine from either sides. It is thin enough. The 7 inch tablets work well for me in the hospital because it fits in my pocket. All the medical apps work, and in a pinch, Citrix is usable for accessing the hospital and office data. I can also read my Kindle books and watch Netflix and Hulu, listen to Pandora and Spotify, and via Google Play can cloud base my iTunes for my Android devices, or as I have done, park the non-DRM files on a 64 gigabyte microSD card with room left for over 25 feature length films.

It runs well, has between 6-8 hrs of battery life. It is much more user friendly that it used to be, but really, if you can’t set up your own email account, you shouldn’t be given a computer. Amazon sells a faux leather book cover which works and keeps things corporate.

It will run Amazon media via Flash, but who has time to watch Downtown Abbey when you have four seasons of Mad Men to catch up on? Flash kills your battery life (we know, we know), but there are times that it is convenient although every year it is less so as Apple and Microsoft have abandoned Flash.

Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is much more touch friendly than Honeycomb which killed the 10inch Android Tablet in the crib. The Tablet 2 designation is correct in that Samsung is positioning itself as an Apple alternative in the post PC world. I like ICS because you can customize. The problems Android had when I had my Droid 2 from Motorola/Verizon are note apparent -contacts come up fast on emails, and Facebook and Twitter are laced into the OS. It doesn’t crash. Individual apps may but the whole OS no longer dies. I see no need for a task killer so far.

Why did Steve Jobs hate the 7 inch form factor? It didn’t jibe with his four square grids on his keynote presentation. As he said, you’d have to file your fingers down to nubbins to reach the right size – this is not true. I think it was a mistake on his part. The fact is that industrial gadgetry is market begging to be filled by the void being left by BlackBerry. Doctors want a tablet, but one that doesn’t need a murse or a satchel to carry.

This tablet at 249.99 at Best Buy is more expensive than the Fire, but I think it does more. Even if you are wed to iOS, the fact that most of the big apps like Instagram and Angry Birds are available means that it doesn’t matter which one you have. I am preferring subscription services like Netflix and Spotify because of their ubiquity on multiple devices. Subscriptions make more sense because you don’t need to take up precious storage space for media when you can have it in the cloud -the tradeoff being the need for a broadband connection.

Other neat stuff -it features a universal remote and IR blaster, letting you turn it into a very cool feature rich remote. The app also tells what’s on TV -it would be wonderfully convenient if it just displayed the TV as well, no?

It’s a good time to be into tech. You have options. When Apple does come it with a 7inch iPad, you’ll have even more.

Turn your iPhone into a microscope

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The image above, the all seeing eye from the US Dollar bill was taken with the iPhone, although any camera phone will work. By placing a drop of water on the lens and carefully flipping it, you create a macro lens on the cheap. With better lighting and a steadier hand, a much better shot could be had.

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This is not original, something I came across on the web.

Apple’s Impact on CES

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It seems CES is all about reacting to Apple -Ultrabooks that are indistinguishable from MacBook Airs, smartphones that try to beat iPhone on features, cloud services that plagiarize Steve Jobs presentation slides, TV’s you talk to that try to preempt a Siri hosted Apple TV. The best stuff is when they try to be themselves, like Windows Mobile which is not very Microsoft in that it is stylish and easy to use, again like Apple.

When irony is so obvious, it no longer is ironic. It’s just sad. It’s just a bunch of small fish in a small pond. A tall hobbit contest.

Inside of MacBook Air Looks as Good as the Outside

I ran out of hard drive space on my 2010 MacBook Air, and so I decided to upgrade the SSD. The OtherWorld Computing SSD kit and instructions are very straightforward. Opening th MBA reveals shockingly clean lines that are frankly beautiful and fits with the Jobsian aesthetic of being beautiful in the totality of the device. I felt like I was looking at an alien artifact. The fan which you didn’t realize was there has silent gears and fits in organically. It was like operating, changing out the SSD.

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12 Used Things to Get For Your Favorite Surgeon

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a gift suggestion list I put together last year. Surprisingly, every item remains fresh –even the iPad and Macbook Air. Because of the terrible economy, I thought that “gently used” and “pre-owned” items deserved their time in the sun. Add to the list last year’s model which technically isn’t used, but still a great bargain. Here it goes.

1. Gently used Porsche –these were in fact easier to get in 2009 after the crash, but the lots are full especially in tony but transient locales like the Hamptons, Aspen, and Lake Taho. My particular favorites are the 911 turbos from the 80’s and 90’s. They have go cart like handling and are plenty fast without costing more than a new Hyundai.

2. Sony NEX-5, last year’s model. The lenses for the new one fit. The cameras have been updated, but there is no need to buy the latest and greatest here. Why even bother getting a SLR quality camera when your smartphone takes nice snaps? I agree, there is no reason to buy a point and shoot camera when the iPhone and others take excellent snapshots, but to take great macro shots in the OR or beautiful portraits and landscapes, a great camera and lens still wins. Ansel Adams could not have produced his masterworks with an iPhone.

3. iPad2 in a few months –they are plenty fast and because I have never used Siri, I don’t miss it yet. The iPad2 does everything that the original iPad does about 20-30% faster. The device is definitely thinner. Facetime is GREAT and brings the promise of videophone to life. The Android manufacturers don’t realize that not only are they competing with the to-be-announced Retina display, Siri equipped iPad 3 in April, they will be competing with the millions of iPad2’s that will be sold on eBay when current owners upgrade. The wonderful thing about Apple is that Apple updates the operating system unlike 95% of Android manufacturers, and that devices going back more than a year are supported in these upgrades, which means many years of usefulness for iPad2 and last year’s iPad.

4. Tiny Laptops –When released, tiny, pocketable laptops like the Sony Vaio P series were very pricy toys but now they are available used for a significant price reduction. I recommend getting a late generation model with the SSD hard drive. These fin in the coat pocket and will allow most physicians get onto their hospital information systems –something cumbersome to do on a tablet. The Windows 7 devices will also let you run iTunes letting it be a very nice media player. The only downside is the short battery life which can be augmented with an extra battery or one of those combo USB/laptop batteries –I use the Eveready branded ones as they allow you to simultaneously charge a smartphone, a laptop, and itself.

5. Old school iPods –the iPod 5th generation, also known as the video iPod, is readily available used on eBay cheap and come in 30 and 60gB sizes –usually more than enough for most music libraries. The only trouble with them is that the batteries are often run down –that’s usually not a problem as it costs about 20 dollars and fifteen minutes to swap one out. The older iPods work well with most automobile maker’s iPod docks which for some unfathomable reason are several years behind at the time of release. The original Bose Sound Docks and the Apple branded iPod speakers (very hard to find) are wonderful loudspeakers and work great with these older iPods. The older iPods are durable and won’t break the bank if you leave it behind in the OR, unlike an iPad or an iPod Touch. I recently acquired an iPod Mini from my dad who never really used it, and I not only changed the battery on it, but I swapped out the 4gB compact flash hard drive for a 32gB solid state hard drive –instructions are widely available on line.

6. High end automatic espresso machines. My recently acquired Saeco Incanto Sirius espresso machine will grind and brew perfect espresso and lattes. When purchased new, they are well over a thousand dollars, but you can find them used for a couple of hundred. The great thing about these is that there are resellers of these machines on line, and finding spare parts and repairing them yourself is pretty straight forward. Once you try coffee from these machines, you will never go back to Starbucks, or even remotely enjoy the swill from a Keurig.

7. Used Kindle 2 –Kindle 2’s, the black and white ones with the keyboard are trickling on to the market as the newest array of Kindles come onto market. If you can find one for under $50, you should snap it up because the secret about the Kindle 2 is this: the always on 3G connection and the “experimental” web browser. You never have to pay a subscription fee, and for reading text and email from the web, expecially if you set up a web news reader account well, you will be surfing away anywhere in over a hundred countries without paying wireless fees. Plus, you can read your books. In the sun. I was initially against ereaders, but being able to download and read hardcover books for 10 bucks or less, and carry several hundred around at a time trumps any antediluvian “I love how an old book smells” sentiment. That old book smell, by the way, is likely a potentially deadly mold.

8. Used Aquariums –The one thing about people moving around a lot is that aquariums don’t move well. People once excited by Nemo suddenly find the cost and time involved in taking care of fish to be a burden. The key is avoiding salt water set ups and focusing on self sustaining easily breeding fish like guppies that don’t need to be harvested from the tropics. The maintenance is minimal in fact if you go for a natural museum presentation with algae and freswater plants as well. The water from these tanks should never be thrown out –they are incredibly fertile natural plant food for the garden and potted plants. Best found on Craigslist and local barter sites, the sweet spot is 10 gallons and up.

9. Used Big Televisions –while flat screen televisions are cheap, the 60 inchers are considered the high end and still command a premium price. The increasingly obsolete DLP (digital light projection) televisions can be found used for sale and have excellent pictures particularly in the darkened home theater setting where being flat isn’t critical. The important thing is making sure the connectors are up to date –HDMI is a must. The other bonus is that these televisions are incredibly light –they’re mostly air.

10. High end stereo equipment from the 80’s and 90’s. Those ten thousand dollar stereos from twenty years ago are now considered junk because of iPods and iPod speakers have largely obsoleted CD players and standalone stereos. That said, the sound coming out of high end used speakers and a quality amplifier like the NAD amps which will accept the audio out from an iPod via RCA jacks is both loud, amazing, and cheap. Most kids don’t have the experience of listening to Pink Floyd at full volume through six foot tall speakers.

11. Used Golf Clubs –There is really no need to pay top dollar for the latest clubs, but most amateurs start and play with clubs that hurt their scores from overwhelming age or cheapness. There are certain clubs that will improve play which were amazing when they came out and still play better than the entry level kits from Walmart or Costco. Vintage Ping Irons –the Ping Eye2’s, are forgiving, durable, and very easy to find in your size. Perimeter weighted Maruma’s and Honma’s –basically hand carved Japanese irons that were several thousand dollars when new, can be found for a few hundred or less on eBay. Best person to ask –any long term golfer –ask them what were their dream clubs in the 1990’s. Most of these irons can be regrooved with tools from the internet –while illegal for tournament play, for the average golfer, these rejuvenate older clubs for use. All they need are new grips.

12. Projectors –8mm Projector and slide projectors –if you have old cans of 8mm movies or boxes of slides, you can have them digitized for a fee, but its much more fun to watch them through original equipment. The missing link is usually the projection equipment which was often fragile with now hard to replace parts. Fact is, these can be found functioning and make for incredible family activities around Thanksgiving or the holidays. Imagine screening wedding footage from the 60’s or 70’s or vacation slides from your parents childhood. The 8mm film and 35mm slide are the least accessible of the popular consumer medial technologies of their times, and being able to show these films and slides with the clickety clack of the projectors, the shuffle of the carousels, with live narration of the subjects (while they are still around) is worthy of filming with your smartphone.

Merry Christmas to all.

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Social Animal Network

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We’re inherently social. It is imprinted in our nature to bond, communicated, and organize as packs. This trait, the instinct to gather, seek out each other’s company, to seek approval, to argue, I would argue, is as much a distinguishing species characteristic as spots on a Dalmatian, and is one of the reasons for the explosive growth of Facebook. We, each of us, need to be part of a tribe, and when the tribes were destroyed by the onset of modernity, they awaited a mechanism to be reunited. Think about it –up to the 2000’s, people had to rely on the usual methods of connecting with their old tribe –telephone, email, actual contact which relied on deliberately remembering to keep in touch which none of us were really good at. The casual intimacy of living in a village with a commons, of having a favorite popular coffee shop, a dorm common room, when you move on the people you said hello to moved on as well. Now they follow you forever in Facebook.

It may or may not be a good thing, because if you have a village, even a virtual one, there will be a village idiot or two (I may be the village idiot). I have become reintroduced to my best friend from kindergarten and there are eerily similar things that we are passionate for –coffee, scatological extraversion, and Apple worship, that brings daily a smile. The shy quiet girl who sat in the back corner of high school English class turns out to be a world class smarty pants –a nicely maturing red wine with a kick in the middle and a lingering finish. I’ve even made new dear friends among friends of friends. They occupy my particular village, some I speak to every day, some every once in a while. It’s the tribe I’ve accumulated over the decades.

It also has implications beyond the sharing of holiday pictures and links to funny cat videos. It returns us to a kind of social organization that was only possible when people physically lived in villages and neighborhoods. The outside world is invited in by the denizens of these villages, but the human tendency is to be insular within the family, the tribe, the village. It may not seem like a big deal to us living in a constitutional republic, but when Facebook is available to those living in places less free, their time amongst their friends must be as important as air and water. Facebook has created a virtual planet for us to inhabit, a brave new world.