Monday, November 14, 2011

Inferior Service Pirates (ISP's)

Hey everyone, I have been a little lax of late in coming up with poignant things to talk about, but I really think I've outdone myself today in being much more broadly appealing than usual! Today I would like to share my thoughts revolving around a topic I'm sure we all consider very important, and hopefully the result of the conversation is that everyone can save a little money, as well as (on a much broader scale) shift big telecommunication corporations to do business in a way that isn't such a huge ripoff.

In a discussion I was having with my parents last month, the topic of internet service came up, as well as the always-pertinent issue of cell phones and the nightmare that is telecommunication giants such as (in Ontario at least) Bell, Telus and Rogers. In Ontario, as far as I'm aware the big players in the Internet game are Bell and Rogers, although there are other companies in other places in the country and world. Feel free, if you're reading this in one of those other places, to substitute in the names of large companies in your area. Most people, (probably at least 95% of you) take your Internet and phone service for granted. While most people know more about their cell phone contracts than they do about their internet service, there is still a surprising amount many people are missing out on, and the cost of this lack of information (or misinformation really) can cost you hundreds of dollars a year. A quick check on the Bell or Rogers sites tells you that the basic plans which cover some downloading at reasonable internet speeds for 1 or 2 people, and not a whole lot else. Our generation (20-somethings) tend to consume most of our media online (television, movies, music, books, news, magazines or at least content which would otherwise be found in a magazine were it not being read online) and so while this works for some people, it is not really a viable solution for anyone on a fairly tight budget.

Currently, Rogers is actually having a sale in which all of their internet bundles are priced at 50% off, which puts this "everyday" plan at $23.50, but with the caveat that you must sign a 1-year contract with them, and the sale price ends after 6 months, at which point you will be back at 47$ a month. Overall I will call this an average cost of 36$/month, which is actually not horribly unreasonable at 25% off over the year. This gets you an internet speed which (under good network conditions, AKA don't think you'll get this on a weeknight between 8 and 12 PM) will allow you to download a standard definition movie in under 10 minutes (and is more than fast enough to stream television or movies via Netflix or other methods of more questionable moral ground).


For those of you well-versed in these matters, our baseline download speed for comparison here is 12Mbps, which works out to approximately 1.5 MB/s, again under optimal conditions. One final thing to consider about internet speeds is that these download speeds depend much more strongly on the ability of a company to supply the bits to you (in other words, their upload speeds) than on your connection. To give you a real world example of this, if you try to download a video file your friend put up on a blog which they are hosting from a home server, it will take some time because it is your friends computer which is the one storing this video, and you can only download it as quickly as they can get it to you. On the other hand, if you would like an example of a very fast download, head over to the apple website on a day when there is no major software releases (today being a slightly bad example with iTunes 10.5.1 coming out, but it will still be quite fast) and download the latest version of iTunes. You'll notice that even though it's a huge file (this one is about 65 MB depending on your computer) it will almost certainly take less than one minute (or over 1 MB/s) and can take 15 seconds (more like 4 MB/s). This is because companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft (anyone who requires that you download large files) have humongous "farms" of servers who are just sitting waiting for you to download these large files, so they can do so with little to no delay. These farms are essentially multi-million dollar warehouses packed with racks of what are basically internet-connected computer storage. Amazon is another company which actually sells this space and connectivity to people who either don't have room to build their own, or just find it simpler to essentially rent the use of this internet. This blog is actually "hosted" by Google, which is why even though it's just me writing it, you can access it extremely quickly. The result of all of this is that you can get your files as quickly as is possible given the Internet speeds you've paid for, and there will be as little delay as possible in getting your Internet to you.


Now, to get back to our little comparison. The other major player in the Internet game is Bell, and they have basically the exact same plans as Rogers, though bundled differently and their logo is blue as opposed to Rogers' red. Bell's plan which is on par with Rogers costs $53.95 (though it is currently being offered for $10/month off), and offers the same basic services as Rogers does, with a few perks. These are the addition of fast uploading of files (7x faster than on the basic plan) for 5$ a month, as well as additional 40 GB chunks of downloading for $5/40 GB. All of these additional features seem to make it a very good deal, but for the time being there is an even better promotion going on at Bell. For $34.48/month (for 1 year only) you can get double this internet speed (25 Mbps) with the fast upload built into the plan. For those of you who are on any other internet plan (and not on a contract) I would highly recommend this plan. It comes with 125 GB of download, again with the option to add additional 40 GB chunks for $5 each.  After this first year, the plan jumps back up to what it otherwise would be ($73.95). This plan is actually a perfect segue for the entire point of this post, that being that ISPs have way too much power over the average consumer, in that they can look at the big picture and sell these plans for half of their worth for a year. This nefarious plot is actually a way to confuse and extract money from the average person, who will see this plan and decide that is is perfect for them. Bell has spent a lot of money on this new nationwide fiber optic network, but everybody finds it extremely expensive and so new signups must not be what they expected. Seeing this, they have clearly decided that if they offer this plan at half price (and make no mistake, this is a GREAT price for a big ISP), they will lose money for the first year, after which the people who pay attention to what they are doing will get out of the plan and move to something which has come up in the intervening year. But many, many people who are signing up for this service between now and when the offer ends at the end of December will forget that it is only a year, and come 2013 will be very surprised that suddenly their prices for service have doubled. Either that, or (as the ISPs hope) they will just pay the difference without even noticing, or they will be very much enjoying the luxury of incredibly fast internet and won't want to go back, so they will justify this huge price increase in that way. But, fortunately for our generation, it doesn't have to be this way.


What almost everyone doesn't know is that there are actually many, MANY small internet providers which buy space in wholesale from Rogers and Bell and sell it to basically anybody who will listen. As this tide is starting to turn a little, some of these smaller services are actually forced to turn people away because they can't sign up people fast enough. There are countless providers like this which can be found at canadianisp.com, but for the purposes of this discussion I will use the company I have found, Teksavvy, as an example of one of these ISPs. This company leases space from Rogers and offers plans which are very similar to their services, but at more wholesale prices. For example, the standard plan which we discussed earlier was available for $36/mo (over a years contract) on Rogers, and on Bell was offered at $43.95 (after a ten dollar discount which applies to the first year). On Teksavvy, a plan with the same speeds is available for $37 per month. On the face of it, this seems slightly worse than Rogers sale price, but remember that with them you are forced into a contract to get this deal, and you only save $1/mo with this setup. This also brings me to the final point to consider. So far, all the plans I have discussed come with caps on usage which limit you to 50-60 GB/mo (which 1-2 users with moderate usage will probably never come up against). If, however, you would like to move more of your life digital, or find yourself being charged overages by your ISP (usually $0.50/GB), this is kind of a huge problem.


In the case of Teksavvy however, and many other smaller ISPs, since they are buying bandwidth wholesale, they will give you much higher caps, like 300 GB/mo for Teksavvy. Also, keep in mind that these guys are extremely happy to have your business, since they depend mostly on word-of-mouth, and so even if you do go over this cap (which would take several people on multiple devices really trying hard to do) the odds that they will actually charge you any overages is essentially nothing. I have been using Teksavvy for about 6.5 months, and the service has been great (since it uses Rogers lines to provide internet) and dealing with customer service has been wonderful (since you deal with Teksavvy CSAs and not Rogers ones, who are notoriously nasty on occasion). With such a large cap, it also becomes possible to fit several people onto one plan (we currently have 5 people, and visitors can bring that number up to 6-7) and have only very occasional problems with speed issues. The math of this setup means that we are each paying about $8/mo for as much internet as we can possibly consume. I have also recently upgraded to a plan called Extreme from Teksavvy (which will take effect this week) which doubles our speeds for an extra 6$/mo (or $1.20/mo/person more). I will report the results of this switch once it happens, but I am positive it will be a great experience for everyone involved, and I VERY highly recommend you at least evaluate your options with respect to internet service provider. It could save you a LOT of money. I hope you found that very interesting, I know in my research I certainly did.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Recent and Random (bonus: Introspective)

Hello and welcome back everyone, it has been a slightly off week so far, as I came down with a little cold/cough/sicky thing, and so doing anything besides lying around like a log has been rather difficult. I have decided, however, that it is time to write a little more. Since I don't really have a specific topic in mind, I was hoping for more of a general update on what I've been up to since the last time I sat down to write. It's been a pretty exciting week in the world of tech, specifically for me but also for the population as a whole. After I reviewed life with an iPad/bluetooth keyboard case combination (henceforth known as my laptop as I really hate saying "my iPad" but saying "my tablet" just doesn't sound right either) I have used it a few times. Mostly the case comes in handy when I'll be doing more than a little bit of typing, but I also very much enjoy the variable reading angle the case affords as compared to the smart cover which allows for reading at about 10 and 80 degrees, or flat on a surface. The battery life has also been great, I charged the keyboard once although there was no indication its battery was low, it had just been about a week. All in all, the keyboard is very responsive and it feels extremely natural to touch the screen when the use requires is as opposed to reaching for the trackpad or mouse, which is exactly what I was hoping for. I don't feel at all awkward doing this, which is a small relief.

Secondly, I made another technology related purchase this week, and finally received it today after almost 50 hours of waiting (God Internet, why can't you do things faster? Just kidding I love you!) I finally got my hands on it. I ordered a Mophie juice pack air, which some of you iOS users may recognize from the apple store as one of those cases you see on the shelf which seems pretty well designed and looks fairly appealing but it's crazy expensive. Well, obviously with spending almost 700 dollars on my phone I'm going to want to give it a small amount of protection. On that note though, I had always told myself that if I was going to spend money on a case, it was going to be absolutely perfect or have some other thing which sets it apart. In the case, both of those demands were met, though one of them was only realized after the case arrived. The first, and more important point is that this case has a battery built in, one which provides an equal amount of power as the phone's does, and so in theory will double the effective life of the phone. While the battery life of the iPhone has never really been an issue for me, it is nice to not have to worry about recharging the phone when you're about to leave the house, knowing that with the flick of a switch you can extend your battery by at least one more day, or that if your battery is at between 40-50% after a full day of use, you don't have to worry about charging the phone the following day because you can just apply your battery pack and go. The second reason, this being the one which I only discovered after trying the pack for a few hours, is that the geometry of the case (wherein the battery and requisite electronics are packed into the base of the case) means that my thumbs don't have as far to reach to get to the keyboard, and so typing is much more comfortable than without the case. While this case was about 90$ with tax included, I really do think I will get enough use out of it to justify this cost, and I will continue to make purchases like this in order to experience life the way I want it to be.

Finally, on a more serious note, I would like to share a little about the thoughts which have been running through my head. I have been going through various life options in the last few months, as part of a more pressing issue which revolved around my realization that I have no idea what I really want to do for the rest of my life. I have put out applications and filled out forms at a few of the establishments which are most important to me, but somehow I still feel rather unsatisfied. Maybe this is because I haven't found my calling in life yet, even though I do have some ideas. Assuming a 100 year lifespan, which is quite generous even given modern medicine, I'm 1/4 of the way through my life. I think to myself that by I now I should have a general idea what my life should be about. I realize that in the current iteration of the world that many people are just like me who are wandering aimlessly through across the earth, but I know there's something huge I'm meant to do with myself. I have been made aware in various ways that I'm not just an average human being, but I can't quite bring myself to be extraordinary enough to turn any heads. In a world of 7 billion people, it is clearly very easy to get stuck in a situation where you are clear you don't belong but aren't given any obvious escape. While I know there are many things I could do above the average proficiency of individuals who make a living doing a given job, I am not going to just be noticed and given the right job for me. If I want something of this nature to take place, I will actually have to apply myself and make it happen. Maybe I should put in the extra effort to actually make this happen and things will change for me, but finding the motivation for such a monumental shift in the way my life has been for so long is going to take quite a bit of working-up-to. History tells me I will probably be okay, but nevertheless I'd really like something more substantial soon, another year like this would really have me questioning my potential. I can't say for sure that writing more this week won't turn very philosophical and introspective again, but I can't really know that for sure. However, here's hoping! If you do actually get through all of this to the end, thanks very much for reading! I'll give you a cookie when I see you, as I probably won't read this myself ever again, with the possible exception being sometime in the distant future when I'm an executive in a very successful business doing great things for myself and for the world!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Typing into the future

Hey everybody, this is a test blog post which is also sort of a product review. It has been a while since I last wrote, and so as to not give the indication that I've given up on blogging, I thought I'd write a little something here. I recently sold my laptop, which was instrumental in writing my thesis as it allowed me the freedom to move around and get comfortable to write, and allowed me the structure and formatting capabilities of Microsoft Word. However, in the time since I finished the major writing portion of that, I've found myself using that particular piece of equipment much less than I otherwise would. Since I already had an iPad, I found myself reaching for that almost every single time I wanted to do a particular task in computing. Also, since my iPad has a longer battery life and is extremely small and light, it just made sense that if I was keeping one thing, it should be that. There was one small caveat to this decision though, and it was evident while I was making it. If I decided to go without a laptop, if I wanted to type while being majorly mobile, I would have to make due with typing on the screen keyboard of the iPad. While I have never had as much of a problem with this as other people, typing out longer things presents a two-fold problem. Firstly, the screen is virtual and so you must be paying rapt attention to the position of your hands at all times. Secondly, since the keyboard is on the screen, you must necessarily lose some screen space in order to type with it. When typing shorter messages, or replying to emails, or performing searches this was perfectly fine and actually quite convenient. No extra space for a keyboard was required, and the addition of a split keyboard when typing with thumbs in iOS 5 was a further excellent step and is something I use quite often. However, I do still enjoy writing longer documents and in these cases having some kind of keyboard is quite useful. I do not see any reason, though, to broadly state that a permanent physical keyboard is an effective use of space or mechanical function. There is no reason in the age of low power bluetooth devices, for any two pieces of equipment to be connected, unless there is a shortage of electrical power. For the time being at least, I don't consider myself to be lacking electricity in any way, and so this is not important to me. What I do realize is the next huge shift in computing, however, is the incorporation of touch into all of our devices. The idea of using a laptop trackpad to navigate our screens is just as laughable as the idea of using our hands on a mouse, if not more so. There is so much more our hands are capable of than using such an implement to manipulate objects on a computer screen. Personally, with about an hours use of a keyboard with no trackpad on my iPad, I will very likely never buy a computer with a trackpad on it again. If I do, the screen with still be touch (Dell is selling these true laptops with high-resolution 15" touch screens right now for about $100 more than non-touch screens). This is most likely a move by Dell to test the waters of such devices to precede the launch of Windows 8, which is in development right now and can be tested out at Microsoft Developers' Website. I have also put this operating system to the test, and it is very touch based. With that in mind, the launch in 2012 of this new touch-centric operating system will probably be joined with several different makers releasing touch laptops and tablets of their own running Windows 8. Presumably Dell is simply testing the waters with this launch and nothing will come of it, but I honestly believe that touch is the future, and that using a mouse on the computer will be phased out in the next few years.

Now, on to the actual topic at hand, now that I have written about its virtues. The keyboard and case which I bought is made by Belkin, a well-known iDevice case and accessory maker, and is called the Folio Case with Keyboard for iPad 2. It retails for $99 on the Belkin website, and I found it for $95 on Amazon. I am so far very impressed with it, and if you are interested in purchasing an iPad instead of a laptop but still want a keyboard, this works quite nicely. The only slight downsides I have found with it, which may not be a problem for non-power users, is that making custom commands which are not available would be nice. For one, I would very much like to be able to use multitasking via shortcut rather than either using the home button it has built in, or using gestures on the screen. Other than that, most every typical iPad function is considered here, and the case itself is very compact and protects both the keyboard and pad from anything external, as well as keeping them separate so as not to scratch the screen. I can't comment of yet as to the battery life of the keyboard, which charges via USB, but keyboards tend to be very low power so I expect a full day or two of battery even during a day of typing. It should be noted that this whole assemblage takes up no more space than would a MacBook Air, and is quite a bit cheaper than that, with a longer battery. I hope this has helped those of you in this market, and that you will be enlightened to what I think is really the future of not just mobile computing, but computing in general! Thanks, and I hope to get back to you all very soon!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In a Blink

Hey again everybody,

There has been plenty of discussion about Steve Jobs in the last day or so and in the interest of not duplicating the thousands of articles and memorials I would like to talk about a somewhat related but personal take on my feelings in the last day.

These sentiments have presented themselves fairly often recently for me, with finishing up my masters degree very soon and figuring out how to start my adult life, I've been able to reflect on the many changes coming to my lifestyle in the months to come.  In recent weeks I have come to the realization that I am 23 years old now. This seems obvious, but it's actually something that hasn't really occurred to me in a while.  Considering that the odds of my living past 90 are extremely slim, this means I've made it a quarter of the way through my life.  Looking back at what I've accomplished so far does make me quite proud of how far I've come, but I have also come to realize that I have many ideas as for what to do with my life, but have executed very little of the overall plan.  From the time I was quite young, it was always expected that I go to university, and since I loved learning so much it seemed like an obvious choice.  I will always enjoy learning, and if I was given the choice of perfect career for me now it would be incredible to go to medical school or become an astronaut, though neither of those are really realistic choices.

I have always thought this, through all of my schooling and any time in life. I was always pretty sure I could go out and get whatever I wanted if I worked hard enough, but you cannot just go out into the world with no reputation and be hired or start your dream job.  People need to know what you are capable of before they decide to trust you to make decisions on your own.  It would be incredible to work at a company like Microsoft or Apple and I'm sure I could do an excellent job there, but just wanting it isn't good enough, no matter how hard you work.  Actual achievement takes more than that.  I have been told that I'm a fairly good writer, and in every endeavour I do my best to be the real me, which means that I always have to consider my impression on people.

Many, many people are extremely self-conscious, and I am not going to try to pretend that I'm not exactly the same as them, but I do approach situations differently than most people would.  I make mistakes like the next person, but I live with the mindset that if I am the real me all the time, I can still earn people's respect for it.  Nobody is perfect, and anybody who tries too hard to be will often be disappointed in themselves.  I know that I can't always give everything my best shot, there will be situations where I will be lazy, or make a bad decision which will wind up costing me opportunity.  I refuse to dwell on these decisions and their consequences, instead dealing with the problems which come from them and ending up a stronger person for it.

In the last year or so, I have set myself down a path which has been the result of some of these decisions.  For example, I am trying to learn computer programming, and have been for almost a year now.  When I first took the plunge I still had a fairly good understanding computers, both in how they work and how to use them to their full potential.  The main problem I have is that I keep trying to learn, because this is what I was trained by almost 20 years of education to do.  What I have so far failed to do is actually apply this knowledge to solve my own problems.  Since computers have been around for a few decades now, a lot of the hard work in programming is already done.  What remains makes it quite easy for newcomers to essentially pick up lego bricks and start building.  However, I have so far been unable to actually use these pieces to create something new, instead ending up using what other people have done for my benefit.  It is very difficult for me to comprehend why I have been unsuccessful so far, but I do intend to keep trying.

Another important point about adult life is the idea that as I am aging, everybody around me is also aging.  While this is extremely obvious when you have been away from your family and friends (as I have) for almost a year, gradual changes in people you seem on a regular basis are very hard to detect.  Many people I am friends with who I met in university are now full-fledged professional adults.  This happened quite gradually, for example I knew when people were graduating but it never really occurred to me that this meant that they were no longer in school and were finding jobs and careers.  I realize in talking to these people now that many things I take for granted no longer apply to them (such as student bus passes, student cell phone plans, etc.).  The thought of joining this world baffles and terrifies me, but it is also kind of exciting.  I know that nobody in the world is sitting watching my progress ready to offer me a job the second I finish school and I could continue on the same path I'm on unemployed and eventually either find a job or descend into hobodom.  I wouldn't really like to be homeless, but at the same time I don't intend to make a career out of something I don't really love.  What I really need to do is get out of the mindset that I am a student with no direction in life, and go find a compass.  I will never be found if nobody out there is looking for me.  Now that I am on the verge of finishing school, I very much need to find myself something new to try and really dedicate myself to it.  Only then will I find what I'm really meant to do.

If you haven't seen the video of Steve Jobs giving the 2005 commencement address at Stanford, I highly recommend it.  Beautiful, moving stuff.  I guess I have a lot to think about.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Multi (hold-on) tasking

After over a decade of using Windows-based PC systems (ranging from Windows 95 through the developer version of Windows 8) and two years of iPod Touch and iPhone operating systems, I have learned quite a few things about how computers work. However, that is not what I intend to talk about today. What I want to discuss today is what I've come to realize about modern computers systems and what we can learn about ourselves when it comes to these systems.  In the early days of computing, DOS and UNIX systems were based on text entry, and these only allowed one program to run at a time, due to limited resources.  These were days before computer games had amazing graphics and before internet video became possible because you had to dial into the internet.  At this time, you could only realistically do one thing at a time, and it was fairly easy to focus on one thing at a time.

Sometime in the late 90s, a drastic change was made to systems like Mac OS X and Windows 95/98 which featured graphical interfaces and windows which contained much more interactive programs featuring menus and a variety of options within the program.  Under this paradigm, you can use several programs all at the same time, which leads to the ability to play music, surf the internet and play a game all at the same time.  This new idea brought about a major change in the way people get work done, because it enables easy copying and pasting of information between programs.  However, not everything about the way this works is good news.  With the ability to perform multiple tasks across multiple programs simultaneously comes the ability to be very easily distracted.  In more and more modern computers, and with modern operating systems, this ability to do more has become even easier.  In using Windows Vista and 7,  and the various incarnations of Mac OS X, is it very easy to get lost in a multitude of programs and lose sight of any work or task at hand.

I have found that this is also true with cell phones and with internet enabled televisions.  Basically if you can do multiple things on any one device at once, you get lost in a limbo wherein you can only half-heartedly focus on either one but you lose sight of both.  For example, when participating in conversations with people, it is possible to fully invest yourself in the conversation, but if any or all of the individuals have cell phones or laptops with them, it is easy for the whole group to fall into a pattern of texting, checking email or reading and lose the conversation.  Now, while this is certainly an effect of these devices, this isn't necessarily a horrible thing. In fact, it can be beneficial to have one or more internet enabled devices when in conversation as it quickly clears up informational gaps and settles disputes (this was actually where the original idea for the Guinness book of records came from).  The problem I have discovered with this happening too often is that you actually tend to lose sight of the task at hand when several tasks are presented to you. With a conversation in person and via text going on at the same time, it is very difficult to separate the two and focus on each. When watching TV while on a laptop, it is very difficult to pay full attention to the show, and it is a very different experience.  One of the major points made by iPad detractors is that it is not capable of true multi-tasking, although that is actually not really true.  The reality is, the iPad is simply not going to show you the content of more than one app at any given time.  It will notify you of something happening elsewhere on the device, but that is all that will happen.  Some say this lessens the overall experience, but allow me to make a different point.

I find time and time again, when watching a television show on the iPad, I tend to pay more attention to it, even if I'm chatting on it, because of this single-task functionality.  When something happens, I can choose to ignore it, or I can leave what I was watching behind, reply to the message, and then return to the video and restart it.  While this seems like a hassle, it allows for real enjoyment of the video, and actually lets me multitask less (spending more time focusing on the task at hand). The same is true of Mac OS X Lion and Windows 8; I can focus on tasks in full screen mode, blocking everything else out and replying or doing other tasks on my own schedule, I don't give myself extra excuses to stop working.  I sincerely do hope the computing world continues in this direction, we will all be much more productive if that is the case, especially because switching between tasks endlessly is what allows us to spend so much time procrastinating.  Maybe only doing one thing at a time isn't the worst thing ever.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's happening?

Hey again everybody! First, I thought it would be nice to get a few details out of the way before I actually get to anything. I have finished my masters thesis and finally submitted it yesterday! This document took a lot of work and I'm really proud of the way it turned out. I don't actually hear anything for about a month but I've got my fingers crossed. I'm hoping that with finishing that work I'll be able to blog move avidly, at least until I find something to do with my life. That being said, if anybody is hiring I'd be glad to hear from you or have your information passed on to me. Secondly, my backspace key broke off my laptop last week, which is really annoying, and since I only have return to depot service from dell, I'll be testing out blogging exclusively on the iPad with no external keyboard, so we'll see how that goes. Doesn't seem to be slowing me down so far, but I've had a few months to practice. Another important thing I'd like to mention is that there are a few people/groups of people I know who have become seriously neglected in the last couple of months, since I really started working at a frantic pace trying to finish my thesis. I'm really hoping that I can take the time in the coming weeks to right this terrible injustice to these people, starting today. Alright, now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business. The last 3 weeks or so were quite a haze of writing, editing, and formatting (and I have developed strong feelings for the Oxford comma) but this does not mean I stopped living in the future. Try as I might to focus on my thesis (and seminar presentation) for that time, lots of awesome developments have happened in my world since I last wrote a regular blog post. For example, since the windows 8 developer preview came out (yes, it's good and it's available for free) I installed it on my desktop computer to test it out and see if it's worth the hype (it is). Even though this operating system is probably at least a year away from public release and sale, it's incredibly fast and responsive, and the 'Metro' apps which showcase it's potential (these come preinstalled on the preview) are really beautiful and leave me very hopeful about the success of the app platform. Also, I have been quietly in disbelief of how much Google Chrome gets weighed down by the 50 or so extensions I've installed on it, this problem somehow doesn't seem to translate into the windows 8 process. Chrome with extensions runs unbelievably fast on 8, and has led me to use it almost exclusively (though the thought of reinstalling apps like word keeps me from using it alone). Perhaps with this new time in my hands I'll be able to get everything running. Secondly, iOS 5, the next generation of apples mobile operating system, is nearing completion. Since it is in beta, I decided I would test it out (living in the future after all). I have been running iOS5 (scheduled for public release on October 4) on my phone and tablet for the last several weeks, and it is just awesome, and a huge step forward. Im planning on detailing what you can expect in a post soon, so keep your eyes open for that! Be excited for October 4 as well, since a new iPhone is looking very likely for that date. In addition to this, something minor in the world of people with more than one computer in the house. Microsofts home grown developer community (called Microsoft garage) is a group which builds applications which focus on smaller improvements to the Microsoft environment. Last week they released a project in the world called mouse without borders. This project aims to connect all computers on a network by allowing any peripherals (mice and keyboards) on any other computer simply by moving the mouse off the computers screen itself and onto the desired computer (as is done on computers with multiple monitors). This allows for control of any computer in your immediate area (once the program is installed and password set up) using any mouse or keyboard. Finally, the best feature of this is that the clipboard is shared between computers, and file transfer from computer to computer is as simple as dragging and dropping. It is worth trying out, I guarantee you'll use it more than you think! I may write more today (I have a lot of topics saved up) so I'll stop here for now, but I hope I can convince you that I'm going to breathe some life into this blog starting today! Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

5 Years in the Life (AKA my thesis's acknowledgements section)


I have posted below, my complete, unedited acknowledgements section which I plan to submit with my thesis.  I really would like to send a heartfelt thank you to these people as well as any others I've forgotten or didn't include for one reason or another (though that seems hard to believe).  If you have any corrections, additions, comments, discussions, or anything else of this nature (I would be extremely against taking anything out, unless someone has a very good reason) I would love to hear about them in the comments section below, or on any number of other public fora.  If you would rather make a private comment for whatever reason, I believe there are several appropriate avenues for doing so.  I really do want everyone to hear the things on the pages below, so do feel free to tell people I have mentioned about this (as I have something like 35 friends on Facebook) and many more people who are mentioned here are not among those 35.  The facebook/twitter/google+ post and this blog are public domain, and so I hope those of you reading this feel inclined to share it.  Thanks! Enjoy! 



            The first sentence of an acknowledgments section is almost always the hardest to write. That being said, hopefully this won’t take up too much of your time. I am, of course, referring only to this section; in the chapters following it you may find yourself lost and confused, but do not fret.  After 5 years of magical, er, I mean scientific training, you too could find yourself on the precipice of completing a master’s degree in Chemistry, looking over the edge into the gaping maw of ‘real life’. Since I never got a chance to free-write about my undergraduate studies, and since the cast of that freak-show has many of the same characters as its post-baccalaureate reincarnation, I plan to combine some thanks.
I can only hope that the next five years of my life will be anywhere near as fun as the past five. First and foremost, I would like to thank the University of Ottawa. Just over half a decade ago, you were just a fancy pamphlet which had found itself atop a pile of brochures compiled in a hasty trip to a high school out-of-province university fair. Less than a year after that fair, I was on the marble staircase outside Tabaret Hall, wondering to myself why it was called that.  Also, I was looking for my dad, because I was alone for the first time in a new province a four hour flight from anyone I knew, and I was pretty scared.  The university, as well as the city of Ottawa, much to my delight, turned out to be a beautiful, engaging, wonderful place to spend the span of two University degrees (and perhaps more, but I’ll get to that later).  While many friends I had in Calgary were cast asunder by my new life, this city held many surprises. 
The first of these was my first non-familial roommate and definitely most exotic friend, Carl. You have motivated me to do so much better for myself than I ever thought I could. Between your late-night TV lullabies, your beautiful and powerful subwoofer and your ridiculous Weetabix addiction, I could fill a long-running TV series worth of plotlines with our enterprises and adventures.  Also, I’m fairly certain that I would’ve failed BCH 2333 if you hadn’t made me memorize that entire textbook (and I certainly wasn’t going to buy that massive, $200 tome; I hope it’s keeping a large section of a bookshelf of yours somewhere free from dust), but that being said I’m certain there are some labs you wouldn’t have done nearly as well on if it weren’t for my mad scientist skillz.  And of course I have you to thank for being at least 100x better at basketball than when I first picked up a ball as a pasty tall kid who could shoot as well from half court as from the foul line (not well) growing up.
In first and second year I lived in residence, and met so many awesome people who graced my life with theirs that I’m almost positive I’m going to forget someone crucial.  Kathleen, without you I would just be a tub of goo now, thanks for making me enjoy running again.  Also, you still haven’t gotten back to me about that beer, rembember? Amaan knows what I’m talking about.  Speaking of the world’s least well known Aziz Ansari impersonator/suave brown guy (for those of you not getting that reference); you helped make those early chem. classes and labs bearable.  I looked to you for inspiration when I was made Residence Advisor (haha RA, get it?), just kidding you are clearly the superior supervisory being.  Also, I guess I should congratulate/thank you for taking care of Erin with me, though the government did pay us handsomely for that task.  Oh Erin, House and NCIS wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without you, and though both those shows live on (I’m sure in no small part thanks to us) they are not quite the same when I watch them alone.  If I see you even half as many times as you promise to come to Ottawa in the coming years, I will consider that a success.  Also, I never did thank you for all that help in dealing with your crazy roommate, but it did mean that you got to see me more, so it’s not a total loss.  Josie, we have had some rough times, but they weren’t all bad.  Remember when you tried to murder my dad with a golf ball?  That was satisfying, wasn’t it?  And you bought me a basketball and some bus tickets for Valentine’s Day, that’s incredibly romantic.  You clearly know what you’re doing in that department.  I hope teaching brings you what you’re looking for, and that your essay writing skills will eventually improve beyond my sleepy, middle of the night levels.
Madison Wayland (nee Darnell), I never knew you. I really miss your lesbian haircut and early morning/late night visits, and I was very sad to see you leave Ottawa.  Though you may never read this, I think I miss time with you more than anybody else I don’t see any more.  I still get the Majestic and the Illusionist confused because we watched those back-to-back, what a dumb idea that was.  We had some good times making those rez boards, and I completely ignored what you taught me in completing the “Seems Newbee Runz” board as an RA.  Thanks for mixing me my first drink ever (though as an aspiring mixologist you should know better than to give a rookie drinker 6 shots of spiced rum in less than an hour, my bathroom floor was never so comfortable as that night).  I hope to one day see you again.
 Jane, I think of all the people who have left my life for the time-being, but who I certainly expect to see again at some point, you would be my favorite.  We have had so many good times, between classes and singing and cooking and middle of the day Skype chats, you are one of the coolest people I know.  I never did say this, though I probably should have much earlier for the record.  I did not make it with everybody else to see Thoroughly Modern Millie, though I think you already know that.  I think you know that it wasn’t at all because I didn’t want to see it, although I don’t actually remember what was going on that day instead.  I hope that this platform is adequate for giving you my sincerest apologies, and for asking your forgiveness in this matter.  Though I did see a play with you, I still haven’t seen you perform on stage, which is highly troubling.  I consider you my oldest friend in Ottawa, simply because you were one of the first people I met here, but also because you are awesome and more than worthy of the title.  Come back soon!
Krista, I know you will make something of yourself, look me up when you get back from Down Under.  Marc, we had some good times (thanks again for a great Flames game), but honestly where are you now?  We all want to know.  Kalie, I knew you as Erin’s roommate and not a whole lot more, but you rock.  And women’s rugby is clearly the best sport ever.  Kate, you were a super awesome RA and I’m still very sad I don’t get to walk down to the front desk and see your smiling face, though congratulations on your new family and I wish nothing but the best for you in the years to come.  Damien, though we don’t know each other as well as I might like, I still consider you my token black friend and could listen to you sing all day. Becca, similarly, we really haven’t spent much time in each other’s company, but the time we have spent has been wonderful, you are one of the nicest, sweetest people I know, and I’m certain you will spend many years saving lives and taking care of people with a huge smile and a helping hand.  Eric, you continue to dazzle me with your amazing abilities with a tennis racket, or bass guitar.  Even though that piece of paper says you’re an engineer, I will never think of you that way.  Matt, calm down, I’ll get to you later.
While everyone I’ve mentioned so far has been an influence on me and I feel has contributed at least in small part to my completing this degree, no group of people has meant as much to me in the achievement of this qualification as who I consider to be the founding members of the undergraduate chemistry club.  The idea that we couldn’t start a sanctioned club based on drinking every once in a while was a bureaucratic lynchpin to the only chance I ever had to participate in a university club. 
Carolyn, though we met in 1st year psychology and you thought I was a jerk (which I probably was a little bit), I’m eternally grateful to you for all the help you’ve given me the last few years. Whether it was helping study for our myriad classes together, or hanging out drinking, or being the only sane people in a big room full of Frisbee players, you have always been fun to be around. Your awkwardness will continue to fascinate me and make me laugh.  You have been around to talk to when I’ve been down on life, work and school, and have been ready and eager to celebrate and mourn the good times and the bad.  For all of this, and so much more, I thank you.
Nick, you have an awesome beard.  The number of pictures taken of us where it looks like we’re making out, or about to make out, would astound even people who know us well.  I very much appreciate having you around to bounce ideas off of, and our discussions about chemistry, women, algorithms, and scientific/technological advancements will always be some of my fondest memories of University.  While your devotion to the Maple Leafs confuses me to no end, I still love you for it.  When we get our condo with a beer fridge in every room and a Subway franchise in the kitchen, I will be a happy man.  A manny, manny man. 
Lizzie, you will always be the one that got away.  I can tell you absolutely anything, and with that freedom comes no apparent responsibility.  I’m very sorry that I sometimes choose to abuse your nature by creating fictitious scenarios to get you to pay attention to me, I can’t help it.  Though we didn’t meet as early as we could have in University, I’m very glad some classes here are only reasonable offered in English, so that we got to spend the better part of MSSM, and most of the time from then until now getting to know each other.  You are awesome to spend time with, and though we find ourselves on opposite sides of an opinion more often than not, your level-headedness has helped me out in more ways than I’m sure I’m aware of. 
Chantal, I’m really sorry I gave you the impression that I was a douche when we were almost neighbours all those years ago, I hope you can forgive me for that.  I really enjoyed the time last year when we were both incredibly crippled and yet you still took care of me when I was what I’m going to call ‘super-crippled’ and hopped up on oxy, I hope I wasn’t too much trouble.  Someday I really do hope we can go for a run, medicine will catch up!
Julie, I really enjoyed softball this summer, thanks for convincing me to do that.  I’m glad you were there through my return to sports, and I hope that in the months and years to come that we can continue to become better friends, and that we can stop having arguments where we’re both trying to make the same point.
Switching tacks a little bit, I would like to talk for a little while about the importance of family in my life and as influences in completing this degree.  Mom and dad, it goes without saying that you have had the biggest impact on my life up to this point.  Socially, emotionally, mentally, genetically, you have always shown me what is right and guided me towards who I am today.  You deserve the most thanks of all in what I have accomplished so far.  When I was contemplating abandoning my schooling for a green pasture in the distance, you convinced me to keep with it.  While I haven’t seen what effect this will have on my future yet, I am keen to be proven wrong in my potentially misguided desire to jump ship.  You have been supportive of my every endeavour, and have never allowed me to cede to any limitations I might have encountered in my life.  You have always cultivated a home environment where I was able to achieve whatever my goals were, and so I have been able to grow in ways I perhaps never imagined were possible.  From learning to speak and read practically simultaneously, to learning simple calculus in junior high, to playing soccer with people 4-5 years older than me and learning to hold my own, you have always allowed me to succeed.  Between doing my own laundry, cooking meals, cleaning up after myself, you allowed me to learn the skills necessary to make it on my own.  Even though I can’t explain my research to you with any confidence that you’ve understood, I hope I have made you proud.
Michael, what can I say to you today?  I know that we don’t always agree on everything (airplane on a conveyor belt comes to mind), but I have always thoroughly enjoyed spending time with you, no matter where we end up. Our scientific discussions are always interesting (though not, I’m sure, to people around us) and learning to play hockey, tennis, and football (I’m sure I’m forgetting others) was a delight.  I wish you all the best in life with Maria, and you remain the only people to have visited me in Ontario.  I am honoured that you chose me as your best man.  For that and many other things I am forever grateful, and I look forward to see you again soon!
            Steph, you have grown up SO fast.  It always stuns me that you’ve managed to always be 2 years younger than me, even though it’s a temporal fact.  Though we don’t always get along, we will always be friends, and the fighting has really gone down quite a bit since we hit puberty.  We also stopped looking as alike as we did, which is probably a good thing.  Some days I really do wish you lived here, or that I was a little bit closer to home so that I could see you more, but I know that you’ll do great on your own! Isn’t higher education awesome!? I love you.
            Next, I would like to move on to the members of the indomitable Bryce Nation, beginning with the original graduate alumnus, Joey Weiss.  Thanks for your thesis as a formatting guide for mine, and especially thanks for making me feel less awkward at conferences by sitting with me and not feeling obliged to go and mingle all the time.  Fred, your constant fascination with NMR continues to be an inspiration to those who feel like they have lost their way, and I’m sure someday you will find a metal song I can endure for longer than you’re around to make me listen.  Kevin, I love listening to your stories, and it has been great getting to know you the last year.  We need to plan many more Bryce Lab trips/outings, even when I’m gone.  Jaz, it has also been really great becoming your friend since your return from Paris, and I appreciate your filling Liz’s vacancy as my awesome female friend in the lab.  I always know if I’m bored that you’re there to distract me (in case Dave is reading this, in which case get back to work!) and I appreciate that.  I know it’s intimidating considering being in the office with Kev and Fred once Becky and Cory leave, but they’re good guys, I’m sure it won’t be so bad!  Whose poster got 2nd place at CSC 2011? I rest my case.  Jess, while your time in the lab was short-lived, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for our many days spent loudly singing in the lab, and I know I’m a better performer now because of that.  I wish you all the best in your academic as well as musical endeavours.  Becky and Cory, of all of the grad students, in all of the labs, in all of Marion and D’Iorio, you two stand alone.  While I didn’t spend very much time with either of you, probably mostly due to my insistence on keeping my awesome desk in the lab, I am extremely appreciative of all the help you’ve given me over the years.  There was never a problem of mine that one of you couldn’t solve (except NQR) and my experiments would not have been nearly as successful without such great NMR role models in the lab. 
            Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Dave Bryce, the supervisor to rule all supervisors.  If not for the opportunity you gave me at the end of 3rd year to work for the summer in your lab, I would certainly be a very different person today.  All of your guidance and assistance with my projects and schooling were essential to my success as both an undergraduate and graduate student.  When I was considering leaving grad school, you convinced me that should stick with it and finish what I started, and it’s for that reason that I’m writing these words today.  Your insistence on celebrating achievements and milestones is a huge part of what makes you great, and if I am ever given the opportunity to advise or counsel those a few rungs behind me on any ladder, I will be sure to pay your debt forward in kind.  Since joining your group, I have really come to appreciate a good, strong beer and I have also learned that being thorough in every aspect of life will pay off in the end.  I cannot thank you enough for all of your kindness and advice, try as I might to put that gratitude into words.  I challenge anyone to find a better, more caring supervisor than Dave. 
            There were also a few other people worth mentioning who have helped with some of the actual hard work which has gone into this thesis.  Ilia Korobkov deserves my thanks for performing x-ray crystallography on the two compounds mentioned in this thesis, as well as putting up with my rather hectic schedule whenever my turn in the queue was up. Tara Kell should be recognized at least briefly for providing me with powder x-ray training, even though I never used it after the training.  Glenn Facey was always very helpful with any problems in the NMR department, and for his tireless hours keeping up all the NMR instruments at the University. Cheryl McDowall, as Glenn’s assistant, kept the nitrogen tanks full at all times, and we always seemed to run into one another during these weekly fills.  I’d like to thank Eric Ye and Victor Terskikh at the Ultrahigh-Field NMR Facility for Solids (which by the way is not a catchy name) for all of their assistance while I was at the facility using the 900.  I’d like to especially thank Eric for helping me by running a few chlorine-35 MAS spectra when I had a very busy day and couldn’t make it to the NRC campus, and then for making sure to get them back to me safely with excellent data. 
            I would also very quickly like to thank all the students I TAed last year.  Your shining faces provided me with some much needed motivation and your excitement about science and learning (and having fun in that environment) has renewed my faith in first years, I don’t know how I got so lucky to have so many great students.  If any of you ever want to grab a beer (you’re all legal by now, right?) let me know!  I never thought that TAing first years could be so fun and rewarding.
Finally, I would like to thank a few people who have come into my life more recently than many of those mentioned so far, but who still deserve mention for their help with my state of mind as well as for listening to my gripes and stories about my research.  Cait (OMal’z), you have provided me with so many great things since we met, and have always been quick to boost my spirits with your sassiness, and then keep me grounded by turning the sass against me.  I appreciate it, and I’m glad I can attribute ‘Science Rob’ to you.  I really hope that we can continue to become better friends, and we simply must go on a bike ride together soon.  I mean how have we not?  Sydney, I may not fully understand you, but I appreciate your kindness and friendship more than you know.  Knowing that you are downstairs and always willing to talk is very reassuring, and I look forward to much more Workaholics in the future with you.  We need to hang out more than we have been of late.  Jacquie, you have finally moved back into the neighbourhood and out of Sketchville.  Of course at the exact same time as that happens I would crawl into a thesis-y hermit hole for a month, but I look forward to spending lots more time with you once this magical adventure is over. Harry Potter Marathon anytime you want, I downloaded them all (I mean bought, I bought them all).  Now that you live nearby again there is no good excuse for not hanging out.  Valery, I cannot in good conscience write this without at least mentioning your influence on my master’s experience.  Thanks for spending time with me while I was getting accustomed to graduate life, and for keeping me grounded while I was trying to figure out how to mark 40 labs a week while taking a class and TAing 6 hours a week.  Though we haven’t talked in a while now, I haven’t forgotten about you.  I sincerely do hope that you’re doing well and hope that someday we’ll see each other again, you’re pretty awesome. 
Julia, I think you have been the most supportive of anyone during this degree.  It wasn’t always easy, especially coming up to the end of it, when I’m basically spending every waking minute thinking about the next part of my thesis which needs doing.  It can’t be easy, especially being so busy yourself.  You always seem to know what I’m going to need or want to feel better, even though it’s kind of cheating that the answer is Mike & Ike’s almost every time.  Thanks for putting up with all my crazy the last couple of months; I’m sure it wasn’t easy.  Bippity boppity!
Finally, I think it’s probably important that I acknowledge Matthew Staroste, my very good friend and faithful roommate.  Through all my time spent working on this project and thesis, working and writing, you have always been around to talk to, for a beer, for breakfast, as an open ear to any issue.  You’re my wingman, my confidante, my fellow furniture aficionado.  I joke around a lot about you, but know that in all seriousness I have so much respect for the things you do and who you are.  You may be scrawny and clothes from the regular Gap and Gap Kids may not fit you quite right, but you do a lot of other things right.  You’ve seen me at my best, and you’ve definitely seen me at my worst (man they need to make Pabst more expensive…oh wait), but through it all you’ve shown me that roommates can be friends.  We may not always be happy with one another (and I promise to leave the house more in October than I did in September), but living with you is an awesome experience. I have to call you my oldest friend overall, nursery buddies for life!  And finally, Summer of George!! We really lived it up this time.  That is what summer is supposed to be. 
Finally, I’d like to thank Marianas Trench.  Yes, they are a band, but in the last 2 years or so they have given me so much to think about, to sing along with, and to enjoy.  I hope to meet you some day, so I can teach you all a little something about solid-state NMR.
Okay, so that wasn’t short.  It was actually much longer than I expected.  I hope there is something in this little novel for everyone, and if I have forgotten to include you here, it doesn’t mean that you did not impact my life, I just had a 5000 word limit.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Social Not-working

I'm working on my thesis full-time these days, and so I don't really have time for a long post, but this has been bothering me more and more in recent weeks. Everybody needs to just shut up about everything. Sometimes, things change. Other times, things don't change. This will continue to happen forever. Facebook and Twitter and Google+ don't care if you like what they are doing. They are trying to appeal to everyone. And surprise (to people who don't use Twitter or Google+), they are useful tools for communicating with people. Facebook, so far, has been incredible at connecting us with people we've already met, or people who are friends with ours and would, in all likelihood, eventually meet anyhow. But it has been just horrible at connecting us with people who are 6 degrees away from us but with whom we would love to share things. These are the spaces that Twitter and Google+ are slowly taking over, much to Facebook's chagrin. These recent changes though, while being awesome and a big step, still don't address that issue. And it's possible it's not meant to. Perhaps Facebook is happy just being about you and the people you are close to, and if so then it is exactly where it needs to be. But I think it should be more. It should connect you with people who share your interests. You don't have to be "friends", but you should be able to connect with people who live 20 minutes away from you, sit on the bus with you on the way to work or school, and share some of your taste in music or a couple of your hobbies. Right now there is no way for you to connect with these people, because in the digital world we have too much interaction with the people we already know that we don't have time to connect with people we see on a regular basis but have never interacted with. Maybe this is wishful thinking, and I'm sure people would be in an uproar over privacy concerns if algorithms started matching them with people they think would be cool. Anyhow, this started as a rant and I really feel like finishing with one. People need to stop complaining about new social networks (or new technology, or new ANYTHING) or comparing them to what used to exist or what else is already available. The only important thing is, do you have a need for it? If yes, do you use it in the way you expected you would? If yes, shut up. Just stop talking about it. Facebook is only going to continue to improve, and other social networks will continue to try to allow people to network better in an effort to fix all of our broken, disconnected, digital social lives. I, for one, applaud them for even trying. We're pretty screwed up.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just Friends


Dear all of my acquaintances who I have on Facebook,

Yay, now that Facebook does one way following (aka subscribing) I don't have to feel bad about unfriending people. In other words, if you suddenly find I am not your friend anymore and are sad about the lack of posts, you can subscribe to me as a human. We don't have to be friends, isn't that great?! My profile and everything is already all public, so hopefully this will actually encourage more sharing between all of us. I am happy about this, and you should be happy too, not offended. Don't be offended. If you say interesting things I will subscribe to you as well. If we haven't spoken in years, either we clearly weren't that good of friends or else it means we need to catch up. Not mentioning any names here, you know who you are. This is a step in the right direction Facebook, and I'm sad it wasn't around a little bit sooner. Additionally, if I unfriend you on Facebook, it doesn't mean that I don't like you as a person, it just means that I don't feel like friend is the right word to describe our relationship. Acquaintance is more well-suited to the types of interactions we have, and I will view our relationship as such. If you want to be more than acquaintances, that is absolutely great and we should talk more. I'm not a sociopath (I don't think), although feeling like I have to say it does make me wonder :). I am also not going to feel bad about this, I'm just being honest about how I feel. If I would not describe us as friends, but still feel like you have interesting things to say, I will totally subscribe to you, even if you don't subscribe to me. And I have left messaging on Facebook completely public, so drop me a line anytime.

Again, and I cannot make this any more clear, being friends on Facebook is not the real meaning of friendship to me, it just allows us to show the world that we are friends and lets us stalk one another unabashedly. And I have been of this opinion with no alternative for far too long. The subscription model will absolutely change my life forever, and I can live free of guilt not being YOUR Facebook friend. Real friendship is what matters most to me.

Thanks to everyone for reading this, and for some of you, this will very likely be one of the last posts of mine you read. For those of you who wish to stick around for some fun times even though we're not that close, I'm game if you are...

Subscribedly yours,
Rob

Ps. Another thing I just realized...Facebook chat is the only thing which would keep a friend who I never see but still want to be friends with, so you have that going for you!

Pps. If we're already connected on Google+, you will get bonus awesome human points and I will feel less bad not having you on Facebook :) You know who you are...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Becoming a Controvert

Hey again, I've been lacking a little bit of late, though I do have several topics I'd like to broach, things I don't really feel are always accepted topics of conversation but which I really would like to get out in the open and discuss. These topics really aren't anything too extreme, just controversial for everyday conversation. My good friends know that I have fairly strong opinions, and ones which tend to be adamant but not always along politically correct lines. In that light, I would really like to choose this platform to voice these opinions, not in the interest of being judged for holding them, but hopefully to open up a discussion about the things I think about every day. I find that most values people hold aren't so much "correct ways of thinking" but more like Christian or religious values which are blindly followed without putting too much thought into the motivations behind them. On the face of this, it seems like an idea which is just going to be damaging to peoples opinions of me, but I have never taken great stock in people's negative thoughts of me so long as they don't affect me directly. I also considered starting a second anonymous blog through which I could vent these ideas without any personal social repercussions, but I wanted people I know to know me better, so I thought it made more sense to keep all of my thoughts together. I am also not at all ashamed of the convictions I have, and so sharing them publicly in the interest of creating meaningful discussion doesn't concern me in the least. I hope to spread these types of posts throughout my more "typical" technology or life related posts, and though at some point I may denote these types of entries as being separate from the more traditional posts, I will just refer to them normally for the time being. I would love to hear any feedback on these issues, and I do believe it is simple to post anonymously in reply to these posts, so I wouldn't worry about political correctness (just basic human decency). Please feel inclined to let me know if you think this is either a wonderful or horrible idea, I would really appreciate pre-feedback if anyone can think of any very obvious downsides to doing this which I am simply not seeing right now.

Expect the first of these kinds of posts in the next week or so depending on my schedule and wrist cramping.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

If I did it

I'm really sorry to those of you who have been waiting almost a week for this, but I hope you enjoy it as I put a lot of time and thought into it. I hope it was worth the wait, and I hope to get back to a more regular writing schedule in the upcoming weeks.

Hey again, it's been quite a while, and while I've been mulling over quite a few topics the last week and a bit, I haven't made the time to write anything non-academic. Since I have way too many things rolling around in my head now, I thought it's as good a time as any to write some of these things down and hopefully get some feedback. I've been thinking a lot about computers recently and though I am very happy with my laptop from Dell, which has a great battery life and is super fast with a big hard drive and a 15 inch screen for under $1000 tax included, I thought it would be at interesting experiment to write a pros and cons list and perhaps even include a table describing what my life would be like if I had made the leap and purchased a Mac. I will do this for both my desktop and laptop, and hopefully look objectively at the issue, from a price point perspective, in terms of the hardware and software which appear on both systems, as well as capturing the overall experience of the actual and alternate universe. Since this is for me and is simply a thought experiment, I will hopefully be able to remain objective, and if at any point I feel like I have let my emotions sway my decision, I will make that clear. I'm not entirely sure I'm ready for this, but I'm going to jump right in and see where I come out. I'm ready to be surprised.

Pre-shopping:
The first and arguably most important criterion of any major purchase comes long before you enter a mall or open up your favourite web browser (Chrome obviously) to visit a shopping site. Your opinions and choices are very easily influenced by friends, family and people you see every day. In this way, the shininess and glamour of Apple products is quite hypnotizing, but the familiarity and comfort of Acer, Toshiba, Dell or Samsung PCs with Windows installed can also sway the consumer to stick with what they have seen at school or grown up with. However, in this case I have to give the narrow lead in this category to Apple, especially in 2011 with their massive growth and remarkable market share gains. Apple 1, Microsoft 0

Shopping experience:
Right upon walking into an Apple store or visiting the website with the intent to make a purchase, the differences in this category are clear. Apple do a fabulous job of making you feel at home both in store and online, because they know exactly what people want out of their products. Because of their limited product line, choices are very simple and to the uninitiated, basically come down to a matter of weight and screen size. Because Apple make all the decisions for you, it is a very easy, convenient place to shop. As for Microsoft, Windows, PCs are available in many more places and from various retailers and online distributors. This is a strength for people who like the choice and who know the differences between the different options, but for a vast, VAST majority of people, this is actually a detriment. Again, the advantage here has to be to Apple. Apple 2, Microsoft 0

Skill Level:
In terms of skill level with people who have never used a personal computer, I have to imagine there would be a very steep learning curve with either operating system. However, that being said, modern computers have removed many of the complications of computers from view, leaving only the things that the common denominator uses on a regular basis. Mac is arguably best at this, almost to a fault in that usually design and function decisions they make are final and unmodifiable. Windows 7 also hides almost all work the computer does behind the scenes as well, but there are also many controls which are meant to give the user more control. In 2011, with Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion to compare, I have to give a slight edge to Windows, simply because the simple features are almost equivalent but power users can work more easily on Windows. Apple 2, Microsoft 1

Aesthetics:
Need I say more? Similarly to the above categories, Mac users don't get to make decisions about style, unless they want to purchase additional skins for their PCs. Things which stand out, such as well-designed laptops, or advanced features like backlit keyboards, are very hard to find, especially on cheaper Windows PCs, but come standard on Macs and cannot be removed. In this way, Windows could be preferred simply because the choice is yours, if you don't want to pay 30$ for a backlit keyboard, you won't get one. Bluetooth adapters are another thing which come standard with a built-in additional cost on a Mac but which Windows users have to pay to include in their systems. In this way, it is extremely difficult to judge apples and oranges here, this one is much more personal preference. Apple 3, Microsoft 2

Software:
First, in terms of the operating systems, it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to have their menu buttons top left, some would choose top-right. Minor points aside, for the majority of users the overall experience with Windows and Mac is very similar, and each OS has its minutiae of small differences and advanced features, so all I will do in this case is link to the ten best features of Windows and those of Mac and let you make your own decision. Also showcased in those two pages are stark differences between the tactics of the marketing teams at Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft, frankly, doesn't really care if you, as the consumer, buy their computer. They know that people will buy the operating system, and millions of enterprise computers will continue to use Windows without a second thought. Apple, regardless of their level of actually forming emotional bonds with consumers, really care about the user experience as well as the satisfaction of the customer with their new or old machine. Apple has to get the point in this category, simply for caring. Apple 4, Microsoft 3

Hardware:
The specifications (specs) on Windows PCs will always beat Macs head-to-head, but there is definitely more to this story than just raw power. Because Apple controls every aspect of its operating system as well as having strict policies on applications (especially with the advent of its new Mac App Store), they also get to control how their hardware interacts with the software. This means that all of their computers are extremely stable machines, rarely failing except in catastrophic, unpredictable ways. With this system in place, it is very easy for Apple to offer excellent warranties with extremely forgiving policies without worrying too much about losing money, since the computer is well-encased, modifications by the end-user are frowned upon. The sole major drawback of this, which is irrelevant to the consumer almost all the time, is that all parts of a Mac work together very well, often incorporating multiple functions into one computer part, so if something does break, replacing just that part is almost never a simple matter. Windows PCs have easily interchangeable parts, but they don't work anywhere near as well together as they were not necessarily intended to specifically work well with one another. In this way the actual specs of Macs are less important, because the parts all work so well together. In this category, it is another case of delicious apples vs. sumptuous oranges, so I'm not going to make them compete. It would just be messy. Apple 5, Microsoft 4

Dimensionality:
This category specifically refers to weight/dimensions of laptops. There are cheap Windows notebooks, regular Windows laptops, and thin, expensive Windows laptops. Apple only do two kinds of laptops, and they are both fairly small, although the MacBook Air is much smaller by far and seems to defy the laws of physics in how small and light it is. Apple has to take this category, unless you have a specific use for a very small netbook. Apple 6, Microsoft 4

Development:
While this category used to be Windows-dominated, the application development gap between Mac and Windows is narrowing, as the gap in number of systems sold also narrows. I think that while this trend will continue, for the time being this category goes to Windows. Apple 6, Microsoft 5

Malware:
This category actually goes hand-in-hand with app development. As there start to be more and more Macs, malware and virus authors will also increase. This year there have already been multiple instances of Mac-targeting malware which caught many people off-guard, since Macs are purported to be virus-proof, any computer can get a virus. Regardless though, because Windows is larger, they definitely get more attacks. Apple 7, Microsoft 5

Customer Service:
Inevitably, no matter how much you pay for your computer, it will need service from somebody at some point. It is this part of the process which makes most people cringe. Hopefully the company who sold you the machine will hold themselves accountable if the problem is with the product itself, and perhaps give you some room for error as a human without charging you through the ear for repairs or maintenance. Apple is phenomenal in this department, with a built-in one year warranty for any computer problems as well as extremely loose benefit of the doubt in-store repair centres. They know that providing these services is very good for business and that people will come back again when they know they are being treated well. Being so spread out, and so far from the end product itself, it is much more difficult for Microsoft to be accountable for software issues, and since hardware issues are not their fault, the blame is spread and in the end the customer suffers. Apple 8, Microsoft 5


Price:
For this category, I am going to start with a very nice laptop from Apple, and then attempt to match its specs to a Windows PC (Dell, because I am most familiar with their website and they have a very customizable system in place).

Apple:
15.4" screen - Backlit LED
5.6 pounds - 14.5" x 10" x 1" thick
i7 processor (Quad-core (4 cores)) at 2.0 GHz, 6 MB shared L3 cache (bigger numbers are better)
4 GB RAM 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (supports up to 8 GB)
2 USB ports - Thunderbolt (Mini-Display/Fast Data Transfer)
Ethernet/WiFi/Bluetooth
AMD Radeon Graphics card with 256 MB GDDR5 memory
"HD" (720p) Camera
500 GB SATA hard drive
DVD/CD drive
77.5 WHr battery (rated at 7 hours use)
Speakers/Backlit Keyboard/Multitouch Trackpad


Software

  • OS X Lion

Final cost (before tax): $1749

Dell: Improvements in bold*

15.6" screen - Backlit LED
6.3 pounds - 15 x 10.5" x 1.5" thick *Apple is slightly smaller and battery size means a little more weight
i7 processor (Quad-core (4 cores)) at 2.0 GHz, 8 MB shared L3 cache (bigger numbers are better)
6 GB RAM 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (supports up to 8 GB)
2 USB ports - Mini-Display Port
Ethernet/WiFi/Bluetooth
NVIDIA GeForce GT 525 M with 1 GB memory
"HD" (720p) Camera
750 GB SATA hard drive
DVD/CD drive
90 WHr battery (rated at 9 hours use)
Speakers/Backlit Keyboard/Multitouch Trackpad



Software

  • Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit

Final cost (before tax): $995

See, after all of that I cannot logically justify spending almost fully double the cost for a laptop. However, that being said, if you want an 11 or 13 inch MacBook Pro or Air, and are okay with slightly lacklustre specs, you will still get a great computer for about the price of a higher-end Dell PC. I hope you can understand that in the end the final score speaks for itself. Apple 1003, Microsoft 1754

Sorry Apple. I still really do want an Air, and would probably buy one very soon if anyone`s in the market for the above Dell computer (because its twin is on my lap right now) I would probably sell it for the Air. The 11" seems like it would be a wonderful machine to own. And Apple products are incredibly cooperative with one another.

Disclaimer: I actually didn't intend to totally validate my Dell purchase in February, but that's how it seems to have worked out. I hope you trust my objectivity in this looking at the fact that I do want to try owning both this laptop and a MacBook Air just to see which one I pick up and use on a day-to-day basis. I hope to try this experiment some day.