Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unemployment grows

Screen shot 2009-11-22 at 3.40.02 PM.pngCheck out this animation (via Daring Fireball) of how the unemployment situation has deteriorated over the last couple years.

It looks like the plague spreading, pretty scary.

The coloring is skewing your perceptions a little, though. My brain tends to watch how the brightness changes instead of the hue differences, but watch it and look at the scale. From 0% to 5.9% the brightness is roughly the same, but above that it tanks, implying a drop off a cliff.

In real life, going from 5.9% to 10% unemployment means another 4 people out of 100 are out of work. This is obviously not a good thing, but not the catastrophic death implied by the blackness of the picture.

Can somebody explain to me what makes Nebraska so special?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On cancelling Verizon service

Wow, switching cell carriers is apparently a big deal to the carriers. They go to a *lot* of trouble to keep people, which says to me they're making a lot of money on us.

Anyway, all I wanted to do was cancel my Verizon service.

Try #1

This afternoon I called their customer service line. I kindly asked them to cancel my service, saying that we'd already switched to AT&T. (I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to guess why.)

That operator proceeded to literally spend an entire hour with me on the phone, taking me down different paths obviously designed to keep me with Verizon: "With all cell carriers you have 30 days to change your mind, just go back and cancel." "You owe it to yourself to try this new Verizon phone, no cost or obligation, I'll even ship it to you free and give you both lines next month for $15. If you don't like it, ship it back free and you pay nothing." "AT&T's coverage is bad, their support is bad, and they're more expensive, you should definitely select your network carefully." "You know you can give your lines to someone else? Or convert one to a landline?"

Literally a whole hour of this!

Wow. That was emotionally draining. I had great reasons for switching, but this lady had several strong avenues, totally dodging my reasons and trying to remove any excuses I had for not staying on.

Finally, I just said, "You know, you're right, I need to think about this before I make any decisions. Thanks..."

"Oh, you're quite welcome. We're so glad to have you as a Verizon customer."

(As an aside, I am sad to go -- in any group of people I always had better cell coverage than everybody else. Verizon's been good to us. It's only 2 years, though, and a lot will change by 2011.)

Try #2

Two hours later, I was a little smarter.
me: "Hello, I'm calling to cancel my service."

Verizon: "Oh sure we can help with that. Were you concerned about the cost, or the phone? or the network?"

me: "No, just personal reasons."

Verizon: "Uh... Okay, I understand. You know you have several options for these lines .... Have you considered any of those?"

me: "Yeah, we understand all those things but we just need to do this."

Verizon: "Okay. It's asking me to put a reason in here and they won't let me put 'personal reasons' in there..."

me: "I guess 'expense' would be the best thing to put, but it's complicated."

Verizon: "Okay."

Done and done.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Why would anyone buy a Mac now?"

There was a bit of a lively discussion the other night about Macs and PCs. A friend had picked up an Acer Laptop for about $350 with a pretty impressive spec sheet (15" monitor, dual-core processor, 4 GB RAM, 256 MB graphics card, Windows 7). He had looked into Macs but the closest thing to that was the MacBook Pro 15" for $1600. Ouch, what a price difference!

Then he poses the question: "Why would anybody buy a Mac now?"

Hmm. Well, I can't imagine he came to me looking for objectivity, I'm fairly well biased. Still, are we really that disparate now? A $1250 premium for a Mac laptop does seem pretty onerous, especially since Macs and PCs were supposedly on par pricewise for awhile there.

We should probably mention here that at least some of that cost savings on those PC laptops is advertising -- apparently companies pay PC manufacturers to include their software on the machine. So when you boot it up, you get a ton of ads, spyware, and other junk you have to turn around and clean back off. What a mess. I'd pay $100 just to not have to mess with that. So we're up to $450, but that's a far cry from $1600.

So what'd I say to him?

I told him different people value things differently, and I could think of at least 25 things I valued enough more on the Mac to make it worth it for me.

"No way!" he says. "You can't think of 25 things."


  1. No viruses. What is that peace of mind worth?

  2. Awesome process scheduler. The mac prioritizes the user interface much better than Windows. Doesn't seem to matter how busy the computer is, I can still move the mouse around, switch windows, etc. Windows (and linux for that matter) have always let the interface suffer when the machine gets busy.

  3. Window manager not in the kernel. Huh? This means that the part of the OS that draws the windows is wedged into the core of the OS, but runs as a separate process. Why is this good? Ever have your Windows-windows stall, i.e. stop drawing? You drag them and they act like a cutout of that part of the screen? Happens all the time on Windows, but rarely on the Mac (actually never, but I hesitate to use that word).

  4. Time Machine. Plug in a spare drive, accept the OS's offer to make it a Time Machine drive, and it builds you a back up, taking regular snapshots as incremental backups (but not wasting drive space!). Their solution is quite elegant (uses unix hard links), each snapshot looks and acts like your entire disk file structure. Very nice!

  5. Spotlight. Fast system-wide contextual search. Maybe Windows 7 does this better, but none of the Windows versions I've ever used have done this well.

  6. Expose/Spaces. Supposedly Windows 7 just stole this from the Mac, but I'm guessing they did a half-keister job of it. I love being able to invoke expose or spaces in the middle of a drag.

  7. Unix. The Mac is a unix machine under the hood, and it's very nice. I have written lots of perl and awk scripts to do stuff for me, and it's great being able to have perl create emails for Entourage (Mac equivalent of Outlook), or to pipe the output of a unix command to my text editor. Also has X11, so much of the open-source stuff from the linux community is available as well. I love rsync. Love that I can type "open ." in a terminal window and have the Finder open a window of that subdirectory; or drag a file from the Finder into a Terminal window and have it insert the path to that file. SSH/sshd built in. Find. Apache webserver. Super stable. Etc.

  8. Robust networking. I come and go on my laptops, and they always just happily connect to the network wherever I am, wired or wireless. I could never get Windows to do this.

  9. Column view in the Finder. I've grown to love this view. The sidebar shortcuts are also a huge time saver.

  10. Long battery life. My work laptop gets 5-6 hours off a single battery charge. My home laptop is older, but usually gets 2-3. I was lucky to get 45 minutes out of my Windows laptop.

  11. Built-in PDF generation, editing. Anything you can print in the OS you can make a PDF of. I use this *all the time*. Also, you can delete and reorder pages, then save a copy. All built-in.

  12. No reboots necessary. I seriously can't remember the last time I restarted either my work or home laptops. I put off OS updates just because I don't want to have to reboot. I love an OS with long-term stability!

  13. Good sleepers. I just close the lid, and when I open the lid, they're back up and usable faster than I can get the lid opened all the way. My Windows laptop would always drain the battery whenever I just closed the lid, and the machine would be off the next morning when I opened it back up. I wanted to drop-kick it into the parking lot. On the Mac, when the battery's about to die it writes the contents of RAM to the hard disk, and when you power up it reloads the RAM in about 10 seconds and you're back in business. Awesome.

  14. Multi-touch trackpad. Windows laptop trackpad stunk -- no multi-touch, inconsistent response, etc. Mac laptop is a joy -- 2 finger scrolling, 3 finger page turns, 4 finger expose control, and more.

  15. Quick window zoom. Hold down control and swipe 2 fingers up or down on the trackpad (or hold down control and spin the mouse wheel). Fun, and I use it all the time.

  16. Best of 2 worlds. A platform with native MS Office, Photoshop, Quicktime, and unix terminal all in one. Any other platforms do that? I can also run Windows and Linux in a virtual machine, having all 3 platforms on one machine.

  17. Great keyboards. I love the new flat keyboards, they have a nice touch.

  18. Auto detect monitors. Everybody at work who plugs their Windows laptop into a projector or external monitor has come to expect trouble. Not me, monitors come up fine, even hot-plugged.

  19. iChat with screen sharing. If mom calls needing help with her computer, I can be looking at and controlling her screen in about 20 seconds, all with built-in software. Awesome. Pretty rare, though, she doesn't need help very often.

  20. One-click flash drive eject. Why does Windows make this so hard? Snow Leopard made ejecting flash drives a joy, no more "you can't eject this drive because an application is using it..." errors.

  21. Built-in screenshots. I can take a snapshot of any part of my screen with a single keystroke, very cool.

  22. Built-in zip and unzip. No WinZip necessary. I prefer tarballs myself, and also has bzip2.

  23. Built-in dictionary/thesaurus. I use this all the time. You can even do a spotlight search for a word and one of the options is the definition in the Dictionary app.

  24. Applescript. System-wide almost user-friendly scripting tool. Lets you do things like automatically build a spreadsheet from the contents of an email filtered through a unix command, then email it to someone, all automatically. Does require some skill but not a CS degree.

  25. Quicklook. Highlight any file (or files) in the Finder and press space and get an instant preview of it. Another huge timesaver.

  26. Mounts and compatibility. NFS, SMB, AFP, FTP, VNC connections supported natively (probably more). Macs can read FAT32/NTFS drives, but PCs can't read Mac HFS+ drives.

  27. Disk images. Built-in support for encrypted and non-encrypted drive images. I store all my sensitive stuff on one of these and don't worry about my laptop getting stolen.

  28. Acceleration sensors. Laptops have acceleration sensors such that if it detects that it's falling, it quickly parks the drive heads on my hard disk before it hits the ground to keep from damaging my drive.

  29. Drivers. Almost no futzing with drivers. With my current batch of hardware I didn't have to install goofy drivers for any of it, not my printer, scanner, digital camera, or digital video camera. Ever try installing a printer under Windows? Never works the first try, often not the second either.

  30. Unobtrusive. Somehow on PCs I feel like I'm always tripping over the interface, it's always asking me dumb questions or notifying me of things I don't care about. Or not working for reasons I can't determine (and my Windows using friends can't either). The Mac works, and stays out of my way and lets me work.

There's 30, want me to keep going? =)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A little bragging...

Can I just take a timeout from my usual blogging fare and brag about my wife for a minute?

Kyla and her running partner Kathy after their last race

Yesterday morning she ran a half-marathon. Yes, a real half marathon. Just over 13 miles in just over 2 hours. How cool is that? To be able to just start running and keep going for a couple of hours, now that's just incredible to me. She wasn't even sore afterward. Awesome.

Way to go, babe!

Go To The Source

Joseph Smith:
Search the scriptures-search . . . and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you; . . . you will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. - Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp 11-12

Brigham Young:
I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living witness each for themselves; then no man on earth can lead them astray. - Journal of Discourses, 6:100

John 16:13:
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth...

Matt. 7:7-11:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

I love it that when it comes to religious things, we don't have to take anyone's word for it.

Does anyone read this thing?

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