Friday, February 24, 2017

New Laptop, woohoo!

I've been lugging around my reliable, but tired, MacBook Pro for seven years now. While I love the real estate of the 17 inch screen I've grown weary of the heft that comes along with it (I estimate the weight somewhere between twenty and thirty pounds, for those who are wondering.) I've been thinking about a new unit for a couple of years now, having never had a laptop survive past the 5 year mark, I've been a bit wary for some time. I'll point out that my old MacBook is the first laptop I've ever had with a metal body, and that seems to be the difference-maker in reliability. Yes, it costs a good bit more, but I've hauled it from Munich to Ushuaia, on planes, trains, and automobiles. It's been to board meetings and horse shows, and it's never skipped a beat. I upgraded the hard drive a few years ago and replaced the battery at about the 5 year mark and it's still chugging along - but my shoulders aren't getting any younger and I'll hope to have plenty of opportunity to haul a laptop around in the future, so I took the leap.

Apple is offering special financing with Barclays if you get an Apple credit card, so I decided having many months to pay without interest was a compelling reason to order, along with having the time to get everything swapped over before an upcoming trip. I opted for a 15 inch with most of the whistles and bells. Since the late 90's (when CPUs passed the 300MHz mark) I've never gone for the fastest processor available, I've always chosen to invest those dollars in more RAM or storage. This time was no different. The incremental difference in processing power (less than 10%) for nearly 10% of the total system cost just doesn't add up for me. While I do a fair amount of video editing, it is on an occasional basis, so the impact of any time savings would be barely noticeable over the long term. I'm also not a gamer, so there wasn't anything to be gained there. I am a bit of a digital hoarder, so I did go for 1TB of storage.

Side note - my first "real" computer was a Gateway 486/66 with 16MB RAM and a 1GB hard drive (the largest available on a consumer basis at the time) My new laptop has a 2.7GHz processor, 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD drive, for about half the dollar spend before inflation adjustment. What a difference (nearly) 25 years makes! It may not strictly adhere to Moore's Law, but it certainly comes close. Yes, I still have that 486 and it still boots an early version (kernel 1.2?) of Linux.

The new laptop is nice so far - the keyboard has larger keys (thanks to the virtual row of function keys) and a nice feel - they're slightly recessed instead of being raised, so hopefully they will stay a bit cleaner. The predictive text display in some apps is pretty useless for me, as I'm looking at the screen as I type and I'm not inclined to look above my fingers to see what the computer thinks I'm typing. When it comes to more challenging words I may find myself looking there for assistance, but that remains to be seen. It is nice when emojis pop up, especially when using Messages or social media.
Being able to unlock the screen with a fingerprint is quite convenient and after just a few hours of use I'm starting to use that feature out of habit. Other than the virtual 'escape' key I'm having difficulty imagining any potential pitfall of having virtual function keys (and frankly I have yet to identify a failure mode that the 'escape' key would play part in.)

The new trackpad is HUGE and it seems that there may be a bit of a learning curve with the click-hold behavior, but I'm not sure yet. (No, I haven't looked for any documentation, that would remove some of the mystery!) SSD storage means it's slim and weighs about the same as 3 credit cards (estimated) Overall I'm well pleased and getting everything moved over from my old unit has been relatively painless. I was initially concerned that the pads of my hands might wreak havoc as they rested on the upper corners of the trackpad, but now that I've relaxed and allowed my hands to rest naturally I can't detect any issues there, either.

The display is amazing, the weight is incredible (approximately six drams, by my estimation, YMMV) and the entire package is responsive. I look forward to dropping it in my Timbuk2 backpack and hauling it around a bit to see how it feels in transport.

Yes, you pay more for a MacBook, but in my opinion it is worth the investment if you're looking for something to haul around for a period of years.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Success or Failure?

If you know me at all, or follow me on any social media platforms, you're well aware that I didn't vote for President Trump. Not that I owe you an explanation, but my opposition was based more on his lack of character than his policies. The list of boorish behavior is long and has been well documented elsewhere, so I'll not reproduce it in this space. Google is more than capable of producing any number of articles on the topic if you need clarification.

That's not to say that I'm OK with all of his policy proposals. There are many that raise serious concern. This is where the success or failure question generates a conundrum. Let me start by coming at it from a slightly different angle by asking another, related, question.

Do I want the United States of America to fail?

Certainly not. With all of our shortcomings and misgivings we've got a pretty good thing going here. We're still young, as countries go, so there is ample room for growth still before us. To think that we've seen the best we'll ever have is a bit shortsighted. Two hundred thirty years ago a bunch of guys got together and decided they were tired of being ruled by a guy on the other side of the ocean and decided to do something about it. I've got a hat made by a shop in London that was founded one hundred years before those guys told King George III to get stuffed. As a country we've just exited our teens and I don't think we've hit our stride yet. We've had highs and lows, but have yet to figure out how to maintain a slow and steady upward trend for the entire country.

Now that we've cleared up that, let's look at the original question:

Do I want President Trump to fail?

In many ways, yes. In some ways, no.


Hold your horses. Let's look at some specifics. What could I possibly want him to fail at?

Simply stated, I'd like for him to fail in his social agenda. He made promises and mentions throughout his campaign concerning marriage equality and women's health. I'd love to see him fail miserably in this regard. Equal rights are not special rights and a woman should be able to make decisions on healthcare with her provider and her partner, as she deems appropriate. He spoke of a muslim registry, this comes dangerously close to violating the First Amendment and reeks of the tactics used by the Third Reich in the 1940's. We have freedom of religion in this country, and that doesn't come with qualifications. Either we're all free to choose our religion or none of us are free. It really is that simple.

I'd like for him to fail with respect to eschewing alternative energy research and his assertion that climate change is just a conspiracy being perpetrated by the Chinese (as I sit here on a January day and the air conditioning kicks on...) We will run out of fossil fuels, fracking is causing seismic destabilization and groundwater pollution, and coal emissions have caused significant problems from the London fog of 1952 to modern day China. Germany produces a significant fraction of their energy needs from solar and continues to extend those initiatives. Research continues on ocean-based generation systems using tidal and wave energy, efforts to minimize the impact of harvesting wind energy are ongoing, as are advances in nuclear technologies. But we now have Executive Orders pushing Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines ahead, both projects riddled with potential conflicts of interest from Trump as well as members of his administration. The fleecing of America has already begun and his Presidency is less than five days old.

I'd like for him to fail in his plans to sell off our public resources to private interests. These range from our schools to our National Parks. With significant irregularities surfacing in the local Charter school program it's not unreasonable to assume that similar issues are surfacing in other areas.

I'd like for him to fail in placing an extreme right-wing justice on the Supreme Court. A moderate conservative would be acceptable, but the troglodyte he's mentioned so far is outrageous. Maybe he's being floated as a false-flag and the intent is to pull his name back and nominate a more moderate person to insure a "win." Let's hope that's the case.

In other areas it's not so much that I'd like to see him fail as much as I think he's not making any sense. He speaks of "rebuilding" our military. Military spending already accounts for ~57% of the Federal budget. How much more do we need to spend? I think the more critical issue is for our lawmakers to actually listen to the Pentagon. When they say "We don't want the SuperMissle 5000" then Congressman BigGuy should honor their input and not insist that the SuperMissle 5000 be funded just so he can curry favor with his district. We need to be pragmatic and reduce (I don't think we can ever eliminate) the political influence of Pentagon funding. To be succinct, I don't think we need to rebuild the military as much as we need to reduce wasteful spending on budget items that the military has specifically rejected.

He's all over the place (mostly too extreme) on immigration and border security. The wall? Are you kidding me? That's an excellent way to waste billions of dollars for little or no return.

Where would I like for President Trump to succeed? There are many areas, the problem is I think my definition of success differs significantly from his definition of success.

The Affordable Care Act has been advanced by various names and in various forms since 1972. As originally intended by the Obama Administration it was modeled on the highly successful program they have in Massachusetts (commonly called RomneyCare.) Don't let the irony of the name of that program get lost on you. Due to partisan politics and the general opinion of the GOP cabal on Capitol Hill the ACA was the epitome of evil and had to be stopped at any cost, mainly because the guy who proposed it was brown and the old white guys on The Hill resented the hell out of him. Frankly, I think he could have had a provision to give every member of Congress a golden goose and they would have still fought tooth and nail. I'd love to see President Trump work with Congress to fix ACA. It wouldn't surprise me if they fix it quickly (not repeal, fix) just so they can bask in the glory of having done something that Obama "couldn't." Yes, Ryan, McConnell, & Co are just that petty and small-minded.

I'd like to see him reform campaign finance as well as the lobbying system that exists in Washington. Our Congressmen and Senators should not be for sale to the highest bidder. Likewise, we need to eliminate the practice of politicians spending decades in office. With the current districting guidelines our elections are an abomination. The greatest democratically elected legislature should be elected in a free and fair manner, not with districts gerrymandered down to the address. Contiguous and compact districts should be the law, not the exception. Our elected officials should be public servants, not lifelong Senators and Congressmen. Lobbyists should be heavily restricted and relegated to an advisory role.

So, it's not that I want him to fail on a wholesale basis, but there are limited portions of his platform that I'd like to see succeed. As the situation exists today I have grave concerns over the tenor of communication between the White House and the Press Corps. "Alternative Facts" are simply lies and we have a contingent in the White House that have absolutely no experience.

This isn't likely to bode well. Perhaps it's all part of the reported GOP master plan to use him as long as possible before impeachment, at which point they'll have the guy the Koch brothers really want in the big chair, the human Q-Tip. Such is life in Trumplandia.