July 2010 Archives

The full text of the article, found here, essentially says that Representative Maxine Waters* is going to be investigated for ethics violations. That’s the gist of the story. But in the story, I found this sentence:

Both Waters and [Representative Charles] Rangel are prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

I ask you, What does this declaration have to do with anything? It is the only mention of race in the story, and, other than the fact that it’s true, it’s totally irrelevant. Is the AP trying to imply that only members of the CBC are being investigated? Well, let’s see some evidence. Is the AP implying that only members of the CBC are unethical? Again, let’s see some evidence. If, for some reason, the story had to do something with race or racism, then this otherwise-superfluous sentence might have a place in the story.

But it doesn’t belong here, and it is representative of the type of misuse of media which promotes racism instead of bridging the racial divide.


* Interestingly (to me, anyway), when I initially wrote this entry, I had written “Democratic Representative Maxine Waters” and “New York Democratic Representative Charles Rangel” when referring to the two representatives under (or potentially) under investigation. I went back and edited out the unnecessarily-divisive reference to their parties, as it has no bearing on my point. It is, of course, relevant to the AP story because the article is making a point that the Democrats are going to have a harder time keeping the majority in the Congress with problems like these.

Safari 5 has a neat feature called “Reader.” It’s almost perfect as it renders the content of web pages in a nice, distraction-free, clean, readable format. Pressing the space bar makes the text scroll up very nicely, with subtle accelerations and decelerations, one screenful at a time, and scrolls slowly enough that your eye can follow the text you are currently reading. Excellent.

But Reader, like webpages, documents, and every other scrollable document-handling application that I know of, has one problem: scrolling to the last page. When you scroll to the last page, it doesn’t advance “a full page” as it did for the previous page advances. Instead, it only advances enough so that the bottom of the text ends up at the bottom of the window. This behavior means that your eye, used to following the current point in the text to the top of the screen, is jerked to a stop (if your reaction time is quick, which mine isn’t) or it keeps moving and is left to search out the current point in the text—jarring in an otherwise-pleasant reading experience. I think that full page advances allow your eye to see the top of the window and “know” that the scroll will stop; I have no trouble following the text and stopping at the right place for full page advances.

So the tweak I’d like to see is for the bottom of the last page to scroll up with the last, fractional page, so that the scroll amount is the same for all pages, including the last. Right now, scrolling to the last page in Reader of the review of the Magic Trackpad on Ars Technica looks like this, even though I’ve already read to the line that begins “Magic Trackpad. Nobody needs…”

Current Reader Last Page.jpg

And this crude mockup is what I’d want it to look like instead:

Desired Last Reader Page.jpg

In this way, the scroll amount is the same, no matter how much text is left in the article, and my eye could track upwards the same amount with each press of the space bar.

A nice side effect of this change is that the reference point for “a screen’s worth of scrolling” wouldn’t change throughout the Reader session, so that when I use shift-space bar to go back up, I see the same text in the same location with each screen’s worth of scrolling. So the text that was, you know, “just up at the top of the screen about halfway back in the article” is still, you know, “just up at the top of the screen about halfway back in the article.”

Otherwise? I love Reader. Nice one, Apple.

This picture, from iFixit, shows the copyright date of the Magic Trackpad as being 2009.

Magic Trackpad PCB

It’s also on the box, for that matter. This thing’s been waiting in the wings for quite a while. Anybody else wonder why? Anybody got any theories?

See the rest of the pictures at iFixIt. Man, I love their work…

Article here in which Steve John Gruber says the following (quoting another of his readers):

“We know from the Gizmodo stolen iPhone that the prototypes were disguised in cases when outside Apple’s campus. Maybe that’s why Apple missed this flaw in the antenna: they never noticed it on campus because they have a strong AT&T signal, and never noticed it off campus because the iPhones were always inside cases, and cases mitigate the skin-touching-the-spot problem.”

That’s just not possible.

He then explains why it’s supposedly not possible; I summarize his reasoning as “When the iPhone 4 was used inside the anechoic chambers where the signal could be weak or strong, and inside the special iPhone testing vans, the phone would have not been in a case. There was one helluva’ lot of testing.”

While his reasoning may be true, the blanket statement “That’s just not possible” isn’t proven by it.

Because it is possible. It’s just one of the possibilities, and to discount this possibility based on Steve Jobs’s statements and the antenna lab tours is not terribly good reasoning.

Remembering that the iPhone 4 differs from every other phone, smart or not, in that its antenna structures are touchable, here are some more possibilities:

  • Testing occurred in the labs with weak signals, granted. But the antenna labs are climate controlled and it’s possible that the humans who came into contact with the phone never had very much moisture on their fingers because they just weren’t sweaty enough to cause total signal loss. Was skin conductivity even measured?

Not that that is what happened, but it’s possible.

  • The people in the tests never held it in the short-the-antenna-structure-out fashion. Unless they documented the way the phones were held and used with every test, they missed an important piece of data.

Not that that is what happened, but it’s possible.

  • The phones used out in the open (not at Apple or in the vans under well-controlled conditions) were used with cases, mitigating the problem.

Not that that is what happened, but it’s possible.

I would bet a beer that nobody ever thought to model and/or evaluate skin conductivity between the two antenna structures. I am, however, certain that the conductivity and “meat” involved where the hands touch a single antenna were at least modeled, if not tested. I guarantee that, in fact—and am willing to bet a beer on that, too. (Offer valid only for Gruber or Jobs or his designee. Sorry, everybody else.)

Furthermore, Steve didn’t say, “When the iPhone 4 is held with the two antenna structures shorted out, we knew it would lose a few bars.” No, he says, “We knew that if you gripped it in a certain way, the bars are going to go down a little bit, just like every smartphone. We didn’t think it’d be a big problem, because every smartphone has this issue.”

First, he never says what “the certain way” is, but implies that it’s the same “certain way” that any other smartphone might exhibit a problem with. And second, yes, they very well may have “this issue,” but the issue they don’t have is that of shorting out one or more antenna structures. And that is the crux of the issue, the proverbial point which is being missed here, over and over again.

Consumer Reports gets it. I get it. Those inside the RDF, on the other hand, just don’t seem to be able to get it.

The Computer Museum has published the entirety of the source code for Bill Atkinson’s genius magnum opuses… opi? opum? MacPaint and QuickDraw. You, too, also unwashed and unworthy, can gaze upon these magnificent files by clicking here.

Yes, I’m just that geeky. I get all tingly as I look on the code and marvel at how readable and meaningful each line is. And then I reflect on its absolute Earth-shattering impact, at how instrumental these lines of code were in reshaping the whole computer industry.

It’s just that cool.

And, if you don’t think it is just that cool, that’s OK, too.

Even if I don’t quite agree with the Ariail’s implication of the severity of the problem (my interpretation of “bad” is not as bad as others’ perceptions), the message is correct. It only takes one…

This panel is worth the click. Stick around and read some more of this excellent cartoonist’s work.

For most of you, this is going to be a, “Huh?” post. But if you are in Surry Hills, 02, Australia (What’s the “02” mean?) and you use a feed reader called Fever, would you mind turning it down just a touch? For starters, it looks like you have two different versions of Fever running side-by-side (1.15 and 1.11). Since they’re looking at this site twice an hour each, the bandwidth is adding up. (It’s surprising how much 44K+44K+44K+44K… ends up being.)

If you could make one of them check only, say, two or three times a day, and maybe turn the other one off entirely, I’d greatly appreciate it. I guarantee you won’t miss any exciting, breaking news if you don’t check quite as often because… well, because I never post anything that “breaks,” exactly. (I’ll leave the determination of “exciting” up to you.)

To the others of you who use Fever, thank you for keeping the pinging to a minimum as well. Like I said, I don’t publish any more than about 2-3 posts a day… heck, sometimes even per week… so you won’t miss anything hot of you don’t update but one or two times a day.

And, as those old guys used to say, Thank yew fer your support.

This article tells how Americans are a bit peeved that Obama took a vacation to Maine instead of sticking around to run the government into the ground manage the BP oil crisis.

I don’t like Obama. Never have, never will. But I think what I like even less is the stupid American public whose perceptions are apparently that (1) their leaders are “supers,” (2) their leaders don’t deserve a break, too, and (3) their leaders can’t lead effectively from somewhere else.

Look, Stupid American Public (you know who you are):

(1) Obama isn’t water resistant to 5,000 feet. He can’t go down there and fix the leak himself. The best he can do is talk about it, and the likes of CNN and Fox are doing enough of that already. His noise would just get lost in the “news.”

(2) He deserves a break—from what, I don’t know exactly, but even I get vacation from my relatively calm job. And did you ever wonder what a Presidential vacation is like? Do you think the job ever really stops? If Obama had to schedule his vacations around every crisis, he’d never be able to take a vacation in the first place and he’d be stuck paying all kinds of cancellation fees. (I wonder if he got a discount with the USAF for a Saturday night stay?)

(3) If you think that Obama has to be in the White House to govern effectively, then you are living in the middle ages when the castle was the seat of the king’s power. This man is more connected than any other person on the Earth, this I guarantee. He can launch a nuclear first strike from Kennebunkport, from Kalamazoo, from Kankakee, or from kilometers in the air. He can get E-mail, text messages, and top secret FLASH messages wherever he is. He can call a press conference anywhere he is because the doggon’ press travels with him. And since he—one man with one body—is one entire branch of the government unto himself, he doesn’t even require a quorum or majority to be present to get action.

Good grief, people. It almost sounds like you’re expecting him to do anything different than any other President in any other administration.

I can’t believe I’m saying this: Get real and give him a break.

Well, Apple’s not quite done the right thing, and it is disappointing to me.

Instead of admitting that there is a well-documented and clearly-understood problem with the iPhone, Apple’s saying that all smartphones have a problem and their phone isn’t alone.

Unfortunately, this is mixing Apples (ahem) and oranges because, while there are certain positions you can hold any phone in that will attenuate the signal by sticking your meaty hands in the way, the iPhone 4 is the only phone whose antenna you touch directly.

One more time: the iPhone 4 is the only phone whose antenna you touch directly.

It’s not the fact that you stick your hand in the way like other phones. It’s that you are a conductor between two portions of the antenna system. It is rocket science. But it’s simple rocket science.

If Apple put a clear, non-conductive coating on the antenna structure, my guess is that there would still be some capacitive coupling between the two antennas when you grip the thing “the wrong way.” But it wouldn’t be nearly as substantial as directly shorting out the two antenna parts.

Sigh…

I’m going to give mine a shot of Krylon. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Their article here.

My articles here and here.

Look at them with their fancy schmancy labs and engineers and stuff. All I have is an engineering degree or two and some iPhone teardown photos. Guess I win for efficiency, though the victory certainly is hollow.

Article here.

Glad you’re finally catching on.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say it again:

Change is running on the other guy’s weaknesses and not your strengths, and hope is awfully hard to legislate.

The gist of the case related in this article is that a guy was pulled over, was suspected of DUI, and was informed of the rule requiring him to take an alcohol breath test or he’d lose his license. The problem? He didn’t understand the rule in either English or Spanish, so he lost his license because he refused the test.

The court overturned the license suspension because the guy wasn’t informed in a language he could understand.

This is so wrong on so many levels.

First, this country has not bothered to take the time to establish English as its official language. Why not, I don’t know. All of our legislation takes place in English. The laws are published in English. English is the primary language spoken by the vast majority of the population. And yet we’re too lazy or sensitive to make it our official language. As Andrew Dice Clay once said…

Second, I do not understand the necessity to stoop to the lowest common denominator when arrest or restriction of freedoms (driving on public roads is not a right, you know) is involved. Why do we have to “Mirandize” a suspect? Why does the suspect of DUI have to be informed of “implied consent?” Yes, I understand there’s a difference between breaking the law and, you know, breaking the law, but if I screw up on my taxes, it’s my fault for not knowing the all the law, not the Congress’ fault, not President Obama’s fault—nobody’s fault but my own for not knowing it all. I don’t get informed of all the intricacies of whatever it is I screwed up—that’s my responsibility to know. If I’m out driving at 45mph in the left lane on the NJTP, it’s my responsibility to know that I’m breaking the law. I must also know that it is illegal to wear a bullet-proof vest while committing a murder in New Jersey.

Bottom line, it’s our job to know our laws. And yet if we can’t somehow communicate one or two pieces of the law which, if they were taught in public schools and immigration classes as being the most important bits of the law that everybody should know (They must be… they’re said during every arrest, right?), every police officer wouldn’t need to know every language spoken in Parsippany, NJ.

There are about 150 languages spoken in NJ. That presents a bit of a problem.

Finally, the ruling says that the suspect must be read the rule in a language that he understands. Hoo, boy! I can’t wait for the first application of the Google Translate defense (as it will be known) because Google doesn’t quite speak perfect Azerbaijani. It’s a no wonder why the New Jersey Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a brief in support of the ruling. Yay, billable hours!

Again, the majority finds itself kowtowing to the few. And because we haven’t decided that all public business will be conducted in English or American Sign Language, it’s our own fault.

Article here.

Interesting tactic. While they are saying—on the surface, anyway—that it’s a bad suit because it will make getting Democrats into office in the West more difficult, I wonder if they wouldn’t rather say, “It sure would have been a lot better if you’d actually done something about immigration as you promised instead of getting mixed up in state politics.”

This page is the manpage for sa-learn. However, I usually find myself reinventing the process I go through to train SpamAssassin every time I want to do it, so here’s a summary of what I do. You might find it useful; you might not. I, on the other hand, most certainly will.

First, I usually move mail messages that Mail.app misses into a mailbox somewhere. I also move the items it determines are Junk into that same mailbox.

Second, I archive that mailbox to a directory on my server, so there end up being one or more .mbox files in that directory. That directory is shared by the server, so it’s no trick to archive the mailboxes straight from Mail.app to the server.

Third, I login to the server and cd to the directory containing the mbox files and do the following:

$ sudo sa-learn --forget --mbox *
$ sudo sa-learn --spam --mbox *

I guess I use the former command to make sure that SA forgets whatever it knew (or I thought it knew) about the messages. The second teaches the filter.

That’s it! Now, next time I want to do this process again, all I will have to do is search my own blog and won’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The complete text of her response is reported by the Three Sonorans.

I am sorry that the US is wasting my Federal tax money on suing Arizona, and I’m especially sorry that it’s a double waste for Arizonans whose State tax money is being wasted in defense of this frivolous suit, too. When Arizona wins, I hope it sues for legal fees.

While the Obama administration is fighting this one based largely on hype and on the theoretical, Constitutional level, her response makes it clear that it’s the practical that matters here, and that Arizona is doing its damnedest to be fair, open and transparent in its implementation.

So whether this theoretical argument holds water or not, bully for her, and Yay! for Arizona. You’ve got a governor with brass ovaries, and there are a lot of states who’d do well to have a governor as good as the one you’ve got.

It’s not magic. It’s simple physics, and there’s no “consensus” to be reached. Of course, implementing the simple physics into a consumer product is akin to magic. But let’s go over a very simplified version of the physics bit now, shall we? Then we can see why there’s no consensus to be reached.

A while back, something on the order of twenty years ago, I took some classes in which we studied radio waves. Jack Derry taught me, and taught me well, he did. Though I don’t remember the details, here’s the gist of what is happening in the iPhone 4.

First, let’s remember that antennas are mechanically designed to best suit the electrical characteristics of the radio waves they are transmitting and receiving. Generally, their lengths are multiples (or halves or quarters, usually) of the wavelengths they are carrying. They are usually precisely tuned in this way because when the wavelength matches up nicely to the length of the antenna, the signal goes out and comes in relatively unimpeded.

Second, let’s remember that there’s a receiver in the iPhone 4 (and all other cellphones) which has what’s known as a sensitivity. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just say that if the signal reaching the receiver is bigger than this sensitivity, the signal gets received. If not, then no bars.

Third, let’s also remember that cell sites are spread out and that the closer to one you are, the stronger the signal into your phone. The farther away, the weaker the signal. You know this already because you drive out of the city and your radio station fades into nothing as you get farther from it. Drive back into the city, and your morning DJ comes in loud and clear. Sometimes, too clear.

Finally, let’s look at the antenna structures of the iPhone themselves. These structures are on the outside of the phone. No, it’s not the first time cell phone antennas have been where you can see them. Remember all of those brick phones with rubber ducky antennas on them? How about the smaller Motorola StarTACs with the retractable thin antennas? Remember those? But what’s different here is that this is the first time (that I know of) where the antenna system has been exposed as part of the phone that you touch, intentionally and deliberately.

Now let’s put all of this stuff together.

What is happening to everybody—whether you notice the problem or not—who holds the phone using the Sweaty Palm Grip is that you are becoming a not-so-great part of the antenna. On top of that, you’re shorting across that plastic divider between two of the phone’s antenna elements. I will ignore the question of what bands or signals these elements carry—it’s irrelevant because at least one is related to the cell signal, and that’s all that matters. The net result of your putting your Sweaty Palm onto the antenna elements is that the iPhone antennas don’t work as well as they did without you since you’re not a finely tuned piece of antenna structure. No, you’re a blobby, resistive, funky-lookin’ piece of meat, and meat doesn’t work well as an antenna.

No, instead when you touch those antenna bits with the Sweaty Palm Grip or its equivalent, the Slimy Pinky Touch of Death, you screw up all of Apple’s antenna engineers’ obsessive and loving work. Your hand wasn’t part of their plan, or at least, not as you grip the phone. If you grip the phone the way these guys planned that you would, it wouldn’t be a problem. Or so says Apple, anyway.

The problem with your Funky Grip is that the signal that should be nicely entering the antenna doesn’t go in so nicely anymore. And if it doesn’t go in the antenna, it can’t be picked up by the receiver. And if it can’t be picked up by the receiver, no bars.

So why do some people notice it and others don’t? The guys at Wired Gadget Lab couldn’t reproduce the problem at all. Well, it all has to do with your distance from the cell phone site. The closer you are, remember, the stronger the signal. The farther away, the weaker the signal. When you are close, your Funky Grip does keep some signal from getting in (“attenuates,” to use the right terminology), but enough gets through that the receiver can pick it up anyway.

When you are far away from the cell site, however, your Funky Grip keeps the same amount of the signal from getting into the antenna system. The problem is that farther away from the cell site (or with more buildings in the way or whatever), there’s not as much signal to start with, and the net result of the Funky Grip is that there’s not enough left for the receiver to work with. No bars.

I can demonstrate this effect at my home in the boonies (far from a cell site) and at my desk in the city (right across the street from a cell site). At home, Funky Grip yields no bars. At work, the bars don’t budge.

It really is that simple. Q.E.D.

Now, there are, as I’ve said before, some other losses associated with having your meaty hands in the path of the signal, but all phones have that problem, not just the iPhone 4. What the iPhone 4 has that is unique, as I said above, is antennas (antennae are for bugs) which are exposed to electrical contact with your hands.

Other sites have done the electrical tape experiment I proposed in an earlier entry and have been successful in demonstrating that the problem goes away. I’d rather not screw up the appearance of my phone with electrical tape, however, so I’m still looking for a solution.

And I’m guessing Apple’s looking too, but maybe not as hard as we’d like, as their letter seems to indicate.

First, Apple has to back off its “You’re holding it wrong” stance. And it is also going to have to back off the “We’ll change the bars calculation” approach, too. It doesn’t matter how many bars there are. If the phone has service and works, then great. But if gripping it in a manner comfortable to me keeps it from working, the number of bars is irrelevant. And the fact that it has better reception than an iPhone 3G or 3GS is irrelevant, too, because that’s not what iPhone 4 users are holding in a manner comfortable to them.

Second, it’s going to have to issue a fix, and it won’t be cheap. It’ll either be $29 for a bumper (though I doubt that costs Apple anywhere near $29 per bumper) per phone, or it will be a clear, non-conductive coating applied to the phone itself. Maybe there are ways for them to do that in the stores, maybe via replacement via mail… I dunno’. Apple can afford a fix. They can’t afford the bad PR. It just doesn’t look good, feel good or work well. And those are Apple’s core values, according to me, and this problem and their current response tarnish those values.

In any case, Apple’s stance is simply wrong. Yes, they may be surprised in some ways, but, quite frankly, I have to side with the lawsuits on this one, and I’m torteophobic.

(Note to attorneys: Don’t come looking to me for expert testimony. You can’t afford me, though I dare you to try.)

It doesn’t matter the source of the news. When it’s this stupid, it deserves recognition.

Nancy Pelosi believes that unemployment checks are creating jobs. To save you the clickthrough, I’ll summarize: if the US Government gives you unemployment benefits, you will spend the money on things which will create demand which will create jobs.

Sounds pretty good. Except…

She ignored a pretty important fact: unemployment benefits don’t generally cover much more than rent, food, gas, etc. There isn’t much room for discretionary spending. So, while unemployment benefits are good for keeping your landlord off your back and a roof over your head, they aren’t likely to cause you to rush out and buy the latest iPhone or a new car or, well, much more than you need. You would, in fact, be better off with a job which would give you the ability to spend beyond your needs.

I expect Pelosi and Obama to team up shortly to explain her new math to the American public. They’ll give it a fancy acronym and then blame the Republicans for not supporting it, which of course will cause the failure of Western civilization.

According to this CNN report, the ACLU has issued a “travel alert” to people who might be going to Arizona for the Fourth of July weekend.

The money quote:

“Although the law is not scheduled to go into effect until July 29, the ACLU is concerned that some law enforcement officers are already beginning to act on provisions of the law,” the ACLU said on its website.

Nothing like a little fear, uncertainty and doubt to really help make your case. Where possible, eschew logic and even observance of the space/time continuum.