Shiny Ipad? No Thanks!

For the past couple of weeks I have had a chance to use an Ipad Mini (16GB/WiFi) and compare it to my Android devices. Can’t say I am impressed. To start the mini has but one control button on the front face which takes you back to the home screen and all the apps I tried have no intuitive, easy to find (if any) way to back up a screen or two when navigating the app. When browsing the web the thing insists on popping up the app store (seems to be no way of turning this “feature” off) forcing me to go back to the home screen, re-launch safari and re-navigate to where I was. There is no way and no app that I have found that allows me (like I do on Android) to look at, move, upload/download files on the file system to my pc except through Itunes absolutely abysmal interface. Apple will alow you to view/move and transfer music/video/some apps but only through Itunes. The device is riddled with such annoying Appleisms like the insistence on a single navigation button, it’s only appeal seems to be that it is shiny and catches the eye of the magpie techies. I have since sold my Ipad, won’t be buying another.
The above experience is not limited to Ipads and Ipad minis either but in my view is typical of all Apple devices such as Macs, Iphones, MacBooks and all. All Apple products seem to be vastly overpriced and over rated. They are big, shiny and new (a new Iphone about every 6 months …) even if not always up to date. Apple’s computers are especially annoying in that they cost a ton more than other PC’s, come with the ubiquitous one button mouse (I really hate having to buy a regular wheel mouse when I buy a new computer!) and don’t really outperform other PCs to the extent that would make them worthy of costing 2 to 3 times as much. Yes they have nice BSD unix under the hood (arguably better than Windows in some cases), yes they have big shiny displays (a real magpie feature), yes they have unique software (different not necessarily better) and yes they are hyped so well that evangelists’ line up like crack addicts getting a free fix to get the newest, latest, greatest.
I can however get two shiny new quad-core mega-GB wheel moused PC’s for about the same price as one Mac Desktop. One can run Windows (which my wife prefers) and one can run (any dist) Linux, both with all the bells, whistles and funky features that the Mac shipped with. The software for my two PCs will be more familiar, cheaper (open source is free, yes free, that is $0.00) and found in more stores and places online. As a developer (mostly web and web-app) I also have an issue with Mac’s. While I can cobble together some tools, add-ons and such to make my Visual Studio or Eclipse compile Objective-C, I can’t find any Windows or Linux port of the Cocoa frameworks and other IOS bits, that’s Apple only as far as I can tell. Oh and I would have to learn Objective-C, not really my cup of tea. I could develop stuff for Mac’s, Ipads and Iphones using Java I guess but why bother? The market is small and shrinking, even the die hard magpies are discovering that Android is more fun, better interfaced, more adaptable. Developers are using Eclipse, Java and open source to create slick software for the Android devices. Windows is not out of it either, Windows 8 has some nice features and is catching up fast.
The bottom line? I am not a Mac fan, not an Iphone/Ipad fan, not swayed by shiny new cases, big media circus launches. I am a fan of pure economics, PCs and Android devices are cheaper, easier to work with and on, easier and cheaper to get software for, just as powerful and funky and easier to develop for.

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Aren’t ur feet cold mister?

Aren’t your feet cold? That is the most common question I get asked at this time of year. As a dedicated barefooter I wear my sandals as long into the cold season as possible, breaking them out every time the temps hover around freezing. I only wear the sandals to keep the cold off the bottom of my feet when walking about. So the short answer is no! My feet are not cold, my sandals keep my feet warm enough to be cold in all but the worst, coldest part of the winter. In truth, apart from the heavily insulated winter boots with felt liners, most “winter” shoes offer little more protection from the elements than my sandals. It’s true that they are closed toe thus preventing wet from getting in (most times) but this also prevents wet getting out when they do get wet inside. If the weather stayed in and around the freezing mark I would do away with the sandals all together, reverting to my summer time practice of only wearing sandals when forced by archaic rules and intolerance. There are many studies that illuminate the benefits of barefooting which I have alluded to before and so won’t reiterate here. For now I will only say once more, my tootsies are quite comfortable even though it is 30 degrees F outside. Keep them bare and happy holidays to all!

A new website …

Good day to all, been a while since I was last here, not really a regular blogger. I have just been creating a great new website for the Argyle Business Improvement Association. This is a non-profit organization that aims to improve community spirit, promote prosperity in business and beautify the Argyle Area here in London. Now creating a new website is not always a big deal, however I have not created a site from scratch for a while now and I was a bit amazed at how much the technology has changed. At the University of Waterloo, when I was managing the Math Faculty web site technologies like Facebook and twitter were only starting to emerge, we were just starting to see JavaScript libraries on sites and technologies like HTML 5 and CSS 3 were mostly rumour. Today all those are commonplace, sites are dynamic, linked in and if you are not connected to Facebook, well then you’re just not connected! So our new website is connected, uses Google maps to tell people where we are, shows the local weather and is a great start to what we hope will be a great website that everyone (in London at least!) will want to visit. I invite everyone to take a look and pass on your comments.

Have you seen it?

So Avatar has been out for a couple of months now and I had been resisting seeing it for all of that time. The reason? In my mind I was convinced it was just another gimmicky 3-D film with tomahawks and arrows coming straight for you out of the screen. I could not have been more incorrect.

The movie in and of itself does not use the 3-D in the old way, having arrows or sharks coming straight for you. It is filmed in a very natural 2-D sort of perspective **but** the 3-D adds perspective and depth in a way that would be hard to imagine otherwise. In every scene one feels as if you are in the scene, taking part (or observing) the action or conversation. Visually you soon forget about the glasses you must wear and are totally absorbed in the environment. I say environment because it feels just like that, every detail rings true.

Did I mention that the detail is amazing? It truly is, you see animals, birds, sparks from a fire, landscapes even Na’Vi which your logical self tells you are CGI but your eyes tell you there are real, they have depth, physicality. All of the movements, emotions, facial features are so real to life they could not possibly be computer generated. Could it? It is beautifully shot, full of incredible surreal scenery, fantastical creatures, heroes and villains playing out a story that is captivating, believable and full of import and truth.
The most basic level of the story is that of the mega mining company stripping the land and killing the indigenous people to get some rare and ultra expensive mineral they want. That however is far and away too simple a way to describe this movie. The indigenous people, the Na’Vi, by intention or not seem to have a lot in common with native North American peoples, being in harmony with their environment, believing in the spirit in all things, in Mother Earth. Every life is sacred to them, every spirit is part of Eywa, hosted in the flesh for a time, returned to Eywa at death. The Na’Vi live in total harmony with their environment and can bond with it joining their spirit to that of the animals, trees, taking only what they need to survive.

The mining company (and it’s mercenary GI’s) on the other hand are in total disharmony with the environment, with two distinct goals in mind. First to move or make extinct the indigenous people, animals and other obstacles to the second objective, strip mining all of the rare mineral unobtanium. There is a very distinct parallelism here to the way North America was colonized, to way we so often treat indigenous peoples and our environment. Obviously not all of the newcomers are evil, else we wouldn’t have much of a story.

The story itself, as told by the movie is exciting, non-stop, at the same time moving, sad, encouraging and happy. It has some of the most moving and memorable scenes I have been witness to in a movie and because of the magic created by the 3-D, you are a part of those scenes not just an observer. In several places I was moved to tears, amazed, thrilled and tickled with laughter. This movie really draws the observer into it, the second time round it is even better because you get over the 3-D thing and really see the movie. I can not recommend it highly enough, anyone who has not seen it has missed something special. Something incredible. James Cameron and company deserve all of the kudos they will get for this movie, they have set the bar very high indeed.

Blue-ray but no Blues

As the title suggests this entry is about Blue-ray DVDs and my humble experiences with them. In the past I have looked at blue-ray displays in the stores, the ones where they have two views of the same film side by side and to be quite honest couldn’t see the difference. Most times I put any differences down to the set up of the televisions not the blue-ray. I honestly couldn’t see enough difference to warrant the additional costs of replacing my current DVD player and my DVD collections.

Then my son purchased a Sony PS3. This was the newest, hottest, most amazing, “you gotta see this Dad!” games system he could lay hands on. In the first week we watched a few of our current DVDs on the system and they did seem to be clearer, sharper and better looking on our LCD TV. Then he got hold of The Matrix and Pearl Harbor movies, both on Blue-ray. WOWSA! The picture quality was astounding and the uncompressed sound track was stunning. It was amazing how good these two slightly older movies were. The colors, details, sharpness of the picture was as good as real life (and some times not too flattering to the poor actors!). The sound was just amazing, there is no other word for it, everything came alive, explosions knocked you out of your seat.

It gets better however, this past weekend we found “A Bridge Too Far” and “Rambo” in the bargain bin at Walmart, $14 each for the Blue-ray versions. Ancient movies by anyone’s standards you would say. But no! These movies came to life with stunning graphics, incredible picture and sound that was astounding in the least. When Rambo blows up the middle of Smallville, USA I half expected neighbors to come running while phoning the fire department! When the panzers roll into Arnheim, you are ready to run the opposite direction. It is obvious to me now that Blue-ray is absolutely better than my old DVDs and can only get better as the technology matures. I will be spending my money this Christmas rebuilding my DVD collections in Blue-ray! I can just imagine how sweet the ,merlins powering the Spitfires in Battle of Britain will sound, as close to the real thing as one can get I would think.

Back again …

August 2009? Has it really been that long since I last posted to this blog? How time flies by! Well it is now November, late November really and weather here in Ontario is cooling. It was about 5 degrees Celsius this morning, not what I would call cold and not cold enough to put on my shoes. I am still barefoot, although some morning I do don sandals just to separate my soles from the cool pavements. Do I get strange looks? Occasionally. Do I care? Not at all.
The most common question I get late into the fall, when I am shoeless is … “Aren’t your feet cold?” or some variation of that. The truth is no, not really. My feet get no colder than my hands and my hands are not “cold” or in gloves usually until late December and even then only on the days when the temp is down below 0 celsius. I much prefer to be bare foot even with cool feet than be shod and have hot sweaty feet. Seems to me to be much like wearing gloves on your hands all day. But then I have rambled on about this all before so I won’t bore you with more on this day.
Instead I would like to tell you about “Global TV Access”, a service (an internet service really) that I subscribe to that allows me to watch British television stations on my TV in London, Ontario as if I was in England. In effect I can watch BBC and ITV at the same time in the same way as any one in England (barring the 5 hour time difference of course!), but even better I can watch it at my leisure through “catch ups”. These television shows are streamed over the internet to my computer then via the HDVI output to my television. This service is so convenient and works well enough that I have completely abandoned my local cable and satellite providers opting instead to use just this service for my entertainment. I would recommend it to almost anyone fed up with high television bills. The only drawback at the moment is the fact that it does not include any American stations (the few who actually stream their service) and so we miss out on stations such as Fox and HBO. If GTVA would expand their services to include some of the American stations then it really would be a replacement for the cable and satellite monopolies.

Well I finally got down to Novaks in London here on the weekend to try on these “Vibram Five Finger” shoes that have appeared in this list from time to time and are supposed to give that barefoot feeling. However after spending near ten minutes getting my toes into the little fingers, discovering that they uncomfortably press on the end of my toes and noticing how incredibly tweedy they look I am inclined to ask, what is the point? They don’t give me that barefoot feet but instead feel like thin shoes. They aren’t attractive looking in any way, in fact one would look like a pillock when wearing them. It seems to me that they would be more popular with shoddies who want to pretend to be barefoot than with barefooters. Then again maybe that’s just me, I certainly would rather be $100 richer and barefoot than looking silly and $100 poorer. I’ll pass on these for now I think.
These shoes seem to me to be an attempt by shoe companies to make the most of a burgeoning lifestyle trend in much the same way that we now see “green” products cashing in on all manner of “eco-friendly” products. I also believe that being barefoot and living barefoot is in about the same place that being “green” was a few years back and that being vegetarian was in when I was in College. Not terribly respected and mightily resisted by the non-initiates. However 30 years later vegetarian is not so strange, many stores stock vegetarian foods and being “green” is suddenly cool. I can only hope that being cool when barefoot doesn’t take another 30 years.

btw here’s a link to info on the shoes …

Vibram

ode to hard copies

So have you ever considered how much the modern electronic age is changing the habits of consumers? In the past year I have not purchased a single CD, though I have purchased a substantial amount of music, I have bought only a few (5 or 6) paper books though I have bought many more books than that and just lately I have ended my relationship with my cable TV provider. In place of hard CDs, hard copy books and cable television I now use, purchase, read, listen and watch either on my computer or on a device that is updated from my computer. In place of albums I now purchase tracks from Itunes from all kinds of artists in many genres of music. In place of paper books I now read ebooks on a Sony Reader buying them from stores all round the world, getting books I never would have seen in my local Chapters store. In place of cable TV I (and my family) have been watching BBC (from England), CBC (from Canada) and sitcoms from the US, all streamed to our computer in HD quality and most days displayed on our HD television.
In most cases the switch is painless, inexpensive and rewarding for the breadth of material that comes available. In Itunes I can (most times) find music I would not find in local stores, sample tracks and then buy individual tracks or whole albums. Some retailers though just don’t get it, book sellers are the worst. For instance the other day I was looking at a new “World of Warcraft” novel (yeah I know it’s crap and will never replace Tolstoy as a classic, but it is a good read), the book in hard cover is $32 in Canada. You would think that the Ebook, with no shipping, no bulk should be cheaper right? Wrongo! The Sony ebook site wanted $25 US for it (not really any cheaper when translated into Canadian dollars) and WH Smith in the UK wanted 20 pounds for the same book. I thought the hard cover was too much at $32, I am certainly not paying a similar price for the Ebook version. Makes no sense. Some of the music vendors are similarly afflicted charging hard copy prices for electronic goods.
Balance will come though as more and more consumers start to buy electronic versions of books, music, television shows and other consumer products. A great many stores, industries and services are still finding their way in the new world of electronic commerce, discover what they can sell and how to sell it. I for one can’t wait, though I do keep draining the damn batteries in my music player and my reader and my PDA … sigh.

Free your soles!

Free your soles! Go barefoot. Have you ever noticed how evangelistic and intolerant people are towards barefooting and the barefoot lifestyle? I was reading a Globe and Mail article just recently, one of the interviewees in the article (an acquaintance from a newgroup I belong to) was quoted as saying …

“One thing I can tell you is I’m gay and it’s much easier to come out to people as gay than coming out to people as a barefooter,”

Have you ever heard such a sad statement? It is absolutely amazing, the intolerance, scorn and insidious whispering judgment that you run into going around town as a barefooter. Nay sayers often tout the infamous “there are health and safety regulations” or “It’s against the law to be in here without shoes”, yet no internet search engine ever returned a web page that pointed to a law, regulation, bylaw or other statute in that regard. The NSNSNS idiom is a dress code put up by proprietors and store managers who are predisposed to believing that everyone barefoot is somehow unclean or derelict or a rebel out to wind up society by being a rebel.

Here’s a question for nay sayers, shopping in a supermarket (full of good shoe wearing shopers) you notice that a plum (or perhaps an apple or an asparagus bunch) drops to the floor, rolls around for a bit only to be picked up and placed back on the stand by one of the shoppers. Would you knowingly but that piece of fruit (or veggie)? How does being barefoot change this scenario in any way? The answer of course is no you wouldn’t knowingly buy it and no being barefoot doesn’t change it in any way.

Here’s another thought, cost. What does an eight inch long, four inch wide, one-half inch thick bit of cork cost? Is there anything in a $250 pair of Nike runners or a $1000 pair of Laboutin pumps that could possibly justify the price? Unless you are a slave to fashion and so horribly concerned about having the latest greatest fashion styles to brag about, I would say no there is not. Consumer footwear is one of the more ridiculously priced fashion items. Kids are bullied at school because they don’t have the right sneakers, young girls spend many distraught hours worrying whether their high heel pumps are the “in” fashion or simply last years.

We attach all sorts of meaning and status to our footwear in modern society. You can’t look professional and work in the bank wearing your canvas sneakers or your flip flops. You can’t wear last years shoe fashions, that simply won’t do. Yet in some circles we can rebel (ever slightly), such as at University where professors are known to wear sandals, but they must be Birkenstocks (the aforementioned $100+ piece of cork) or similar not cheap flip flops! Barefoot though? That’s banned, you can’t enter University buildings barefoot. Shoes (and footwear in general) serves two purposes really, fashion and protection. We have covered fashion, now consider protection, would you consider wearing oven gloves all day everyday in summer? Would you wear your winter gloves all summer? Again the answer is no. So why would you encase your feet in socks and shoes all year round, indoors and out? If you are a construction worker, mechanic or someone else who works in a profession with obvious dangers to your feet, absolutely put shoes on. You wouldn’t ride a motorcycle without a helmet, you wouldn’t dig a ditch without safety boots. It only makes sense. Walking down a sun warmed sidewalk in summer? Doing banking at the local bank or maybe enjoying a pint with friends at your local? Shed the shoes, go barefoot. Your feet will thank you.

Walking barefoot is natural, healthy, better for you feet, tendons, ankles and your posture. It puts you in touch with your environment in a way that the thinnest of shoes or sandals can not. You can feel the texture of the grass, sand, carpet and (yes) concrete on which you walk. You can feel the warmth and the coolness of the ground. It’s green, cleansing and self-cleaning (a walk in the rain clean all road dust from your soles) and lightens your soul. Tender feet you say? Tender feet come from wearing shoes, not from taking them off. The more you walk barefoot the easier it becomes. Try it for a week, see if you ever put shoes on again. I dare you.

The article in Globe and Mail.

Two events, history in the making

This past two weeks has once again seen the end of an era on the soap that I have been watching for forty two years. The first was a while back when the character Mike Baldwin passed away, this week it was Vera Duckworth, wife to Jack Duckworth who passed away. The actress Elizabeth Dawn who played Vera is retiring due to health problems. The “Duckys” as they were affectionately known first showed up on the street in 1974, 34 years ago. Vera started in Mark Britain’s factory as a packer and soon moved on to Mike Baldwin’s factory as a machinist. Jack showed up a bit later at Gail’s wedding to Brian Tilsley. Jack and Vera were one of the all time great pairings on Corrie with incredible comedic moments such as the Vince StClair dating episodes, Jack on the church tower in a Santa suit and Jack trotting down the stairs of a hotel dropping one shoe, Cinderella style. Vera was forever chasing him, berating Jack for his racing bets, pigeons, bad back and lack of laundry skills. Together they made some of the best comedy, most dramatic and thoroughly entertaining Corrie episodes. Vera will be missed by all, remembered for a long time as one of the favorites, one of the iconical characters that has made Corrie what it is. Few other characters can claim as long a run as Vera on Corrie, there is Jack, Emily, Rita, Gail, Audry, Betty and of course Ken Barlow (who has been on continuously since episode 1). Corrie has been aired continuously since 1960, in Canada since 1962 (I believe) and I have been watching it since 1966. No other show to my knowledge can match that.

However as momentous as the passing of Vera was, a much more important event happened this past week in the United States. This country which has for all of my life been known as the country which fought a war over slavery, suffered incredible race riots in the sixties, practically invented segregation has elected a black African American president from Chicago. That is absolutely fantastic! Granted the alternative candidate (and his running mate Sarah Palin) would have been a disaster waiting to happen, that can not take away from the achievements of Barack Obama. In my eyes Barack was without doubt the best candidate and arguably the best candidate to come along in many many years. Through out his campaign he did not stoop to the mud slinging and dirty tricks of his opponents, didn’t draw on the race card, didn’t forget who it was that was going to vote him in, the people of America. He talked to the people, made sensible promises, won the respect of the American public, even the white working class in Ohio. Amazing. For the first time I can remember I can say that I applaud the Americans, my respect for them has gone up measurably, I really believe they have made the right choice. Now I wait to see if he can live up to the hope and promise placed in his election. In any event the world is now a much different place than it was two weeks ago. When I was in high school, if some one had suggested there would be a black president in my lifetime, I would have died laughing, not a chance I would have said. Just 40 years later it has happened, The US now has a black president elect, Fantastic! A new era is dawning, let’s hope we all make the very best of it.