No Outlet Required

For years— and years— my life has been plagued by power outlets. Or, more specifically, the lack of them. Even for my AAA battery-based Hanspring Visor I carried a spare pair of NiMH batteries in my pocket, but once I transitioned to color Pocket PCs that had to be recharged over USB, I’ve spent the first second or two in every new room I entered looking for the power outlets just in case I needed to recharge. My laptop-toting friends have specific places they have to sit so that they’re in range of an outlet. We even tend towards places with crappy WiFi (talking to you, Panera) because outlets are easily accessible.

Well, no more. Not for me. Aside from overnight charging at home while I sleep, I’m cutting the cord.

In my pockets, I have:

  • iPhone 5S, silver, in a…
  • Mophie Juice Pack Helium, silver
  • Plantronics M55 Bluetooth earpiece

This is my bare minimum gear. As you’ll see below, the Helium augments the 5S just enough to get me through most days without plugging in.

If I’m expecting to be out longer than a quick errand or two, I’ve got my tiny backback (a CamelBak MULE with the water bladder pocket used for iPad storage) packed with:

  • iPad 2 (WiFi only, hence the need for the MiFi below)
  • Logitech K810 “Kate” keyboard (yes, I named my keyboard)
  • Kindle Paperwhite (also WiFi only)
  • Verizon Jetpack MiFi 5510L
  • Reserve Mophie Juice Pack Air for my iPhone 5S
  • Reserve Apple blue leather case for my iPhone 5S
  • Apple EarPods
  • Apple Dock Connector cable for charging the iPad
  • Amazon Kindle microUSB cable for charging literally everything else
  • Anker 18W 2-port Turbo USB AC adapter
  • Anker Astro3 12,000 mAh external battery charger

The iPhone 5S is my primary device, and it sits in the Mophie Helium by default. I let the battery run down, and then when I get the 20% warning I turn on the Helium and that charges it back up to somewhere in the 70s. Most days, it never gets back to 20%. If it does, I can switch to the Juice Pack Air in my bag, or just charge it from the Astro3. I’m taking the whole kit with me to MileHiCon here in Denver next weekend, where I expect to have the extra drain of really crappy cellular signal, keeping the radio searching constantly.

The real key to this is the massive 12 Amp/hour battery on the Astro3. That’s nearly eight times the capacity of my iPhone. I can charge every piece of gear I have at least twice over from the Astro3, and when/if I need to charge it, I can charge it and the iPad (or anything else) simultaneously from the Anker AC adapter in an emergency. So there’s really no need for me to even look around for AC outlets when I walk into somewhere new. It doesn’t matter. It’s effectively impossible for me to use more power than I’m carrying with me in a 24 hour period. No more plugging in gear just in case I find myself without power later. All battery, all the time. At least until the Astro3 gets down to about a quarter charge, at which point I’ll plug it in and let it charge back up while I sleep.

And ironically, since I no longer have any incentive to keep my devices “topped off” all the time, spending most of their time between 80% and 100% charged, their batteries should have longer lifetimes. Lithium batteries get their best overall longevity from being between 20 and 80 percent charged most of the time. This way they’ll wear down naturally over time rather than the quick burn of trying to stay constantly ready to be used but not actually used.

Torn Between Two iPhones

And feeling like a fool.

I had it all planned out. I was going to buy the Verizon 32GB iPhone 5s on the morning of the 21st (a Saturday, and I have to work Friday so I’m not standing in line). I mean, why wouldn’t I? I have a black iPhone 5 now that I own outright, and I’m eligible for a Verizon upgrade. With Apple’s new trade in program, I’m looking at getting over $300 on an Apple Store gift card for my 5, which I can then turn around and upgrade to my new Precious.

And the 5s has a lot going for it. It fits the Mophie Juice Pack Air that I already have for my 5. Touch ID would finally allow me to use a 1Password-generated password for iTunes. The camera’s good enough in low light that I actually might start taking pictures in my dimly-lit man cave. And the A7 processor is future-proof, at least for the 2 years I’ll own the phone.

And I’m serious about the 2 years. I’m too good at math to fall for Verizon’s rapid upgrade scam, and they don’t offer 18 month upgrades anymore. I know common geek wisdom is to always buy your phones off contract anyway, but that makes no sense on Verizon, where you’re paying the same monthly rate whether they’re subsidizing your phone or not. May as well make them eat that cost.

Then I actually watched the launch videos for the 5c and 5s, and I noticed something.

Apple wants people to buy the 5c.

Previously, Apple phone pricing has followed a cascade pattern. This year’s new hotness starting at $199, last year’s model $100 less, and 2 years ago’s model free on contract. Objectively, last year’s model has always given you the best bang for the buck, since it’s proven and there are lots of accessories available for it, but it’s not yet out of date and sluggish on the latest version of iOS. But most people don’t look at it objectively. They see last year’s model as last year’s model, dated and out of style.

This year Apple has turned that on its head. The 5c really is last year’s model, under the hood. Other than a 5% larger battery and better selfie camera, it’s identical hardware to the now-discontinued 5. All Apple has really done here is kept the previous cascade pattern while giving the year-old hardware a facelift to make it look new.

But for the mainstream market, that’s enough. Apple’s usual sales numbers look something like this in terms of units sold:

  • New 60%
  • Last year 30%
  • 2 year old, free on contract 10%

With the introduction of the 5s and 5c, I think we’ll see something more like:

  • 5s 20%
  • 5c 70%
  • 4s 10%

The c is the mainstream choice, the s is for premium buyers and geeks. Which means despite the c sporting only a 32-bit A6 processor, I think Apple will be careful to keep it well-supported for at least 2 years. They’re going to have a lot of them in circulation. I expect the 5c to be the best-selling iPhone ever.

When I walk into the Apple Store on 21 September, I’m going to have a bit over $300 to play with from trading in my 5. I could spend that on a 32GB 5s and hold off on AppleCare+, or I could get a 32GB 5c with AppleCare+.

And I’m leaning towards the 5c.

The polycarbonate-over-steel construction of the 5c is much more durable than the 5s, and that matters when I’m looking at spending the next 24 months with it. I’ve managed not to crack or badly scratch my 5, but I’ve only had it about 6 months. And adding the peace of mind of AppleCare+ and having 2 replacements (each carrying a $80 deductible, but that’s doable) if I crack the screen or dunk it accidentally just extends that durability. The 5s, on the other hand, would not only be more fragile and uncovered, but also has the new Touch ID sensor in the home button and a larger camera lens to break. The home button is the most problematic piece of an iPhone as it is. Who knows how adding a fingerprint scanner is going to affect that from a reliability standpoint?

The camera on the 5s is much better, but I don’t take a lot of pictures. Realistically, I doubt having a better camera would really change that habit. It would be a different story if I had kids, but I don’t.

The M7 “motion coprocessor” in the 5s is cool, but I bet the iWatch that debuts next year will have an M7 chip of its own. Not sure it’s necessary in the phone itself.

And the A7 is great, but the 64-bit processor is really only useful for games and photo editing at this point, with the phone itself still under 4GB of RAM. And I don’t play a lot of games or take a lot of pictures. In 2015, when it comes time to upgrade again, 64-bit will be a much bigger deal. But for now, and especially with the mass volumes of 32-bit 5c iPhones out there, I don’t see many developers optimizing for 64-bit or going 64-bit only. That would be as silly as releasing an app only for the iPad instead of universal, and snubbing all iPhone users. I mean, who does that?

And while I do love technology and the new shiny, I’m not sure I need all that in my phone. I think the advantages of having a effectively indestructible phone as my daily driver (factoring in the replacements if anything really bad happens to it), and next month buying a new retina iPad mini with an A7 chip for the heavy lifting, far outweighs betting on spending 2 years with delicate, untested technology.

The 5c is everything my iPhone 5 is, but more durable, better for selfies and with a 1 year fresher battery than my 5 (li-ion batteries lose capacity as they age). Worth a “free” upgrade, especially with AppleCare+ thrown in as well.

Now I just have to decide which color to get.

Elop won’t run Microsoft, or at least not for very long

It’s hard to run a company the size of Microsoft from a jail cell, and the more I think about the Nokia deal, the more I think that’s where Elop is inevitably headed. His entire tenure at Nokia is starting to look like a massive, multi-billion dollar scam.

A high ranking VP of a corporate giant becomes the new CEO of a company in a different business, in a different country. He doesn’t sell his home in Seattle, nor does his family move with him, even though he’s ostensibly going to be there permanently. Over the next three years, he makes counterintuitive decisions that abandon his new company’s core strengths, and their value plummets to a tiny fraction of what it was. Meanwhile, he maintains close ties to his former company and many of his decisions benefit them, arguably at the expense of the company he’s supposed to be leading. Then, with the market cap on his new company as low as it can get before bankruptcy, his old company swoops in and buys them, allowing the executive to “return” to his original company with resources they couldn’t have afforded before his tenure.

How does Elop not get sued into oblivion by Nokia shareholders, even if he manages to avoid criminal charges?

During his tenure at Nokia, Elop had an option. Symbian obviously wasn’t going to be a contender in the modern smartphone market. He could go with Windows Phone, from his buddies at Microsoft, or Android, which was free. He went with Windows Phone, “differentiating” Nokia damn near into bankruptcy.

But here’s the thing. An honest and competent CEO would have gone with Android. Why? Because of what Nokia was good at. Nokia’s strengths, historically, were build quality, distribution and design. If those are your strengths it’s to your advantage that everyone (except Apple) run the same OS. Then everyone has a level software playing field, and you have the better hardware. You win.

Elop threw those advantages away by locking the Lumia line to Windows Phone, a sad mess of a platform even after the botched transition from Windows Phone 7 to the completely incompatible Windows Phone 8. How many times do you see an ad or billboard with little App Store and Play Store logos near the bottom to download the app for whatever they’re pushing? Do you ever see a third logo for the Windows App Store? No, you don’t. There’s a reason for that.

Simply put, Elop did not fulfill his fiduciary responsibility to Nokia shareholders. He prioritized the needs of Microsoft over Nokia, and I think that’s because he never really stopped working for Microsoft. I think he was a Trojan horse, and the plan going in was to soften Nokia up for acquisition. There should at least be an investigation before the conquering hero returns to Microsoft.

So if Elop isn’t going to be the new Microsoft CEO (and he shouldn’t; if my supposition above is wrong then he was at best grossly incompetent), who should be? I have three suggestions that I’ll get to in another post.

My battery is just fine, thanks.

The Next Web has a piece up about how horrid the battery life is on the iPhone, and by extension, all smartphones. While I’m sure this is a very real problem for some, it isn’t for me. Why? Because as Clint Eastwood once (almost) said, “A man’s got to know his (phone’s) limitations.”

Turns out, the iPhone 5 has amazing battery life if you know how to use it properly. I almost never see my iPhone 5 drop below 50%. But I plug it in to external power when I’m listening to Pandora or using navigation while I drive. I keep the screen brightness just high enough to be comfortably readable (25-50%), not retina-searing full brightness just because I can.

I’m fortunate to have really good LTE signal throughout most of Denver on Verizon, so the radio uses less juice than is probably average. I also keep it on WiFi at home, work and my best friend’s house, the three places I spend most of my time.

In my experience, Bluetooth uses almost no power when not in use, so I generally kept it on (I stopped doing this only recently when I realized I’m really not going to be using the BT keyboard).

I am careful about location services. Any app that keeps active GPS on constantly just because gets deleted. Geofencing and occasional location pings don’t bother me at all.

Lastly, I should mention that this is on, by far, my primary computing device. I use my iPhone for everything, and I’ve been nothing but impressed with the iPhone 5 battery life.

Your mileage may vary.

I’m out.

I posted on various social networks around New Years that I was going to try to avoid buying any new apps or gadgets this year, instead resolving to make do with what I have.

I’m out.

Yesterday, I jailbroke my iPhone 5, just to see what all the fuss was about. While I’m still trying to avoid adding any themes or other “fluff” to it, I have managed to put my calendar data on my lock screen (thus regaining the “glanceable information” that I loved about the Windows Mobile Today screen) and set Chrome as my default browser with full, equal-to-Safari Javascript speed. Most importantly, a long press of my home button now brings up Drafts, ready to type, instead of Siri. The difference these changes make my iPhone qualitatively better and more useful.

So useful, in fact, that now I’ve decided I really need to buy an iPad mini, and the sooner the better (if I wait until it ships with the as yet unreleased iOS 6.13, I might not be able to jailbreak it as well).

I have an iPad 4, but that doesn’t cut it. My big boy iPad is supplied by work, so I can’t jailbreak it. And some of these tweaks are too good to live without. So I need my own. And there’s no point in having two large iPads, so the mini seems like the logical choice.

I only need the WiFi version, and 16GB will do since most of my stuff is cloud based. So as soon as I cobble together about $350 (insert Chef’s dad’s bit about the Loch Ness Monster on South Park here), I’ll have a new gadget to welcome into Chez Kirvin.

How to deal with haters

Via Jeff Jarvis, I read a disturbing post on Amanda Palmer’s blog today. A 15 year old girl named Amanda Todd killed herself after years of online and offline bullying and persecution. She made one error in judgment (flashing a guy online who egged her on) and that began a trail of blackmail and harassment that she felt she could never escape.

My first impulse was to try and figure out who to blame. The creeper who convinced a 13 year old girl to flash him on her webcam and kept harassing her for more? The kids at school after school who refused to let her live down a youthful mistake? The kids online who, shielded by not having to say it to her face, said she should just die and get it over with?

And inevitably, being both a thriller writer and someone raised on Batman comics, began thinking about how to protect the victims of cyberbullying by punishing the guilty. Of armies of chubby boys making life miserable for people who said mean things online (spoofing online purchases in their name is a start, drawing the attention of Homeland Security and getting these people disappeared as domestic terrorists is possible).

But really, that’s fantasy. The reality is that human beings are primates. We are hard-wired to lash out against the “other.” Tribalism is in our DNA. And policies of deterrence can only go so far. People do what people do, even if we say it’s not okay.

I don’t think people hate any more now than they ever did. In fact, they probably hate a lot less, in total, in our increasingly multicultural society. But ironically, because we don’t have a socially acceptable Other to demonize anymore, we increasingly turn against ourselves. Kids like Amanda Todd are hounded, ruthlessly and 24/7, for stepping out of line.

I probably wouldn’t be here today if Facebook had existed when I was growing up. As it is, I barely made it out of 1983 (seventh grade, Pershing Middle School, Houston, Texas) breathing. And if I hadn’t been able to go home and get away from my tormenters in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, high school might have killed me just as it did Amanda Todd.

So what can we do?

Instead of punishing the guilty, we can support the victims. We’re never getting rid of the cruelty and hate in the world. But we counteract it with love and acceptance. We can call out bullies when we see them, and make sure their targets know they’re not alone. No one has to feel the hopelessness Amanda Todd felt, that I’ve felt myself.

Because life is never hopeless. And you’re never as alone as you think you are.

The truth about Windows 8

This is the best review I’ve seen of Windows 8. I’ve said before that Windows 8 is a failure, but this explains why it’s a failure. The video is longish, but worth watching. In short, though:

  1. There are no visual cues to tell users what they can click on, what they can’t, and how to get to things that aren’t currently visible. Like DOS, you can only really use Windows 8 if you already know how to use it. It’s not discoverable at all.
  2. The split between the Modern UI and the Desktop gives you a schizophrenic, completely inconsistent user experience. Worse, certain functions are only available in one environment or the other, so you have to learn both.
  3. The Modern UI has absurdly low information density, which is ironic when you consider Microsoft has always been the champion of “glanceable information.”

First impressions with the Kindle Paperwhite

First off, no, I haven’t already blown my “no new crap” resolution. The Paperwhite was ordered last year to replace my badly cracked Kindle 3, and was supposed to arrive on New Year’s Eve. It’s not my fault UPS is worthless.

I got my new WiFi-only Kindle Paperwhite Wednesday night, and I was on the fence about returning it. After all, even though my Kindle 3 is clearly ready to give up the ghost, I still had my iPhone and iPad, right? Was there really a difference between reading on the Paperwhite and reading on crazy sharp retina displays?

Turns out, yeah. There is.

I’ve had my Paperwhite for about 36 hours now, and it is by far my preferred way to read anything long form. There are three reasons for this.

  1. The size really does work. After reading on my Paperwhite, my iPhone 5 feels small and cramped, and my iPad 4 feels like a brick. The size and weight are important. Granted, the iPad mini would probably fulfill this requirement just as well.

  2. The screen makes a difference. Technically, the Paperwhite does emit light through the optic fiber diffusion grid layered over the touch screen. But it’s so diffuse and gentle that it produces no eye strain at all. I used to scoff at people who made the eye strain argument, because I spend probably 12-14 hours a day looking at an LCD. I’m used to it. But the Paperwhite screen really does feel better. It’s kind of like the old gag about how great bashing your head into the wall feels when you stop.

  3. The Kindle Paperwhite has a feature the iOS Kindle app doesn’t have and it’s insidious. In the bottom left corner, you can choose to display your current location in the book, the time left to read the book (based on a sample of your reading speed; it takes a little while for this to show up), or the time left to read the current chapter.

The last one, of course, is the killer. Because each chapter, especially in the thrillers and non-fiction books I read, is relatively short, this is always a small number. So you end up saying, “Well, it’s just another 3 minutes.” Then, “Well, it’s just another 5 minutes.” And before you know it, you’re saying, “Crap, I was supposed to go to work today.”

I’ll post a fuller review once I’ve spent more time with it, but so far, I can see the Paperwhite becoming my constant companion over the coming year. I’m serious about reading more. I’ve got a list in TaskPaper of 100 books I want to read in 2013. I have these books loaded on my Paperwhite, and I’ve already finished 2.

Making do with what I have

2013 looks to be a year when a lot of people are pulling back and reëvaluating what they really need. I’ve seen lots of people resolve to quit Facebook, Instagram and other online services. I’ve seen people resolve to replace their smartphone with a feature phone. I’m sure there are more than a few people ready to follow The Verge’s Paul Miller and disconnect from the Internet entirely.

I’m not doing that.

But I am, as I reflect on 2012 and what I want to be different in 2013, keenly aware of something I want to change. I need to quit chasing the new shiny. And not just devices, though if I manage to keep my current loadout (iPhone 5, iPad 4 with ZAGG keyboard, home and work Windows laptops, old Kindle Keyboard for Kindle Lending Library) I have no plans to buy any new hardware in 2013. (The iPad w/ keyboard and one of the laptops are company property, so if I lose my job I’d need a tablet of my own, maybe.) (Yes, I plan for such things.)

But more importantly, I need to quit buying shit. Even good shit. Frankly, I have too much shit as it is.

I have hundreds of books in my Kindle library that I haven’t yet read. I have dozens of movies and TV shows in my Amazon video watch list that I haven’t seen. My App Store account is full of apps I not only don’t use, but don’t even have installed.

So here’s my resolution. In 2013, I will not buy any new apps, books or movies. I will make do with what I have, and put that money to other, better purposes, like savings, or burritos.

There are a few exceptions, of course. The book (just one) that I’ve already preordered will show up as scheduled. All of my music will be via my exising Rdio account, which I will not cancel. Likewise my Amazon Prime membership, which gives me access to movies and TV. These are sunk costs, money that I’ve not only already committed to spending, but am okay with spending.

But other than that, no new distractions. I’ll read books I already have and use apps I’ve already purchased. Books, apps and movies/TV shows that look irresistible in 2013 will go on a list in Simplenote, and in 2014 I’ll revisit that list and see how many of them I actually still want.