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.

eco-friendly? Not!!

I have just been reading the press blurbs about the new Nissan Leaf, a totally electric vehicle, the first of which was delivered to a happy consumer in Ottawa recently. This car is only one of several being developed and to be sold to consumers in the coming months.
These vehicles are being billed as “zero emissions” vehicles, viable alternatives to gas powered vehicles, economical, eco-friendly and many other superlatives. Judging from the reviews articles and websites I have read, nothing could be further from the truth.
The car itself is expensive at $38000, more than many other compact cars of merit and better styling. This price also does not include the costs involved in installing a 240 volt charging station in your home, the additional electrical bills, the insurance (likely to be charged) for a new untried and rare vehicle or the maintenance. The economic kicker is the fact that the batteries which power this car are leased to the owner (They cost $10000.00) because they are too expensive to replace and expected to last no more than 5 years.
Being billed as a zero emissions vehicle is almost false advertising in my view. The car itself indeed produces no emissions, however experts say that the emissions created in generating the additional electricity required to run it is about equivalent to a well tuned compact diesel car. This also does not take into account the carbon footprint of shipping raw materials around the planet to produce the exotic batteries and other components before they are assembled into a shiny new Leaf.
In terms of performance Nissan claims a top speed of 144 Km/H (90 Mph) and a range of approx. 160 Km (100 Mi.). Nissan also notes that the trickle charger takes some 21 hours to full charge from low battery. If one were to take those claims as accurate then a trip from London to Ottawa would take me about 8 days or about the same as if I travelled by horse and carriage. I dare say the horse would be more ecologically sound to boot. So this car is not a touring car designed for long trips but an inner city commuter. For 38 Grand I can purchase any one of several dozen more attractive commuter cars and even some not so commuter cars.
One final point in this rant, the Leaf and all it’s brethren from other manufactures are pure electric cars, getting their “get up and go” from the power grid. Here in Ontario every summer Ontario Hydro complains that too many people crank up their air conditioners sucking up electricity and causing brown outs. Ask yourself, what would be the effect of a few million consumers plugging in their electric cars every night? Then again maybe that’s not a great worry as Nissan only expects to sell 600 of these by 2012, hardly seems worth the effort.

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.

the dust settles …

Hello again, it’s been a while since my last blog entry. At that time Zoom airlines had just gone south and our plans to go to France had all gone bust leaving us in a real fuzzle. We had deposits made we couldn’t recover, sold most of our stuff, an offer on the house, the lot.

Well now it is almost a month later and things have settled somewhat. We lost the money for the airline tickets (or looks good as anyway), lost the deposit money on the rental in France, didn’t sell the house after all and have decided to stay in London … sort of. In the end a bit of R & R (Renovation and Retail Therapy) eased the blow. So we have spruced up the basement to a nicely finished family area, replaced the furniture with some nicer newer bits. In lieu of moving to France we will be taking longer (up to a few months) vacations to choice spots (like warm beaches in the middle of winter!). Looks like it will be a fair trade so far. Everyone is calmer, cooler, my son has returned to University to do more of his courses, our contract work has continued without break (as it would have had we moved) and I am enjoying not working 9 to 5, commuting 100KM to work and explaining to my bosses why I prefer to be barefoot. All in all it looks like things will work out. Everything happens for a reason, I guess France was not the answer we needed at this time, maybe later, maybe somewhere else. I let the universe decide.

House of cards …

Have you ever seen a house of cards collapse? It is coming up to Thursday (tomorrow) and I can tell you this time last week we had it all but this week? Naught. Last Thursday we where set to retire to France on September the 5th (two days from now), we had sold the house, sold most of the furniture, arranged distance courses for Matthew, bought airline tickets, paid a deposit on the property in France and rented transport at that end. It was all arranged, when we arrived in France, we would have enough savings left to carry us should something go horribly wrong. What we didn’t figure on was that the airline might go bust before we left, taking all our careful planning with it. This week we have no airline tickets, a several thousand dollar hole in our savings, a lost deposit on the France rental property and no immediate travel opportunities since airfares seem to have suddenly gone skyways. Acquiring new tickets to France (or any other destination involving airline tickets) would eat up so much of our savings that we could not recover should something go wrong, which it is now evident that it can. So we have naught. The only good news so far was that the France car rental company has returned the $65 deposit on the car rental. The only advice we have received regarding our Zoom Airline tickets is that we probably will never see that money again so don’t bother chasing it. Ditto for the deposit on the rental property. As for the sale of the house, there is no easy way to back out of it (we were not particularly attached to it having decided to give it up for France *but* we do need a place to live) as the sellers have few rights in this case having signed the agreement of sale. So we are scrambling for a place to rent before the closing and trying to pick up the pieces as well as can be. It is amazing however how totally knackered life has become because of the failure of Zoom Airlines, a factor out of our control and so utterly unexpected. A meteor strike in the middle of London would have been less devastating! Watch this space, I’ll let you know what’s happening when the cards cease falling down around us.

all our operators are currntly busy, please hold …

Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrugh! Gluck! Sob! Sigh! %^#@$$%%^& Zoom Airlines!

Ah now I feel better! Yesterday, the 28th of August I had tickets to fly to France, transport booked at the other end, a long term rental on a 17th Villa in the South of France. Today, the 29th of August everything but the airline tickets is in limbo. The reason you ask? Zoom airlines has gone bust and ceased all operations, our airline tickets are no more and most likely so is the money used to purchase them. It seems Zoom has been in financial trouble for a while but failed to let any of it’s customers know this, while it fiddled the creditors, for fear of losing business and getting into worse financial troubles. Instead it took bookings, took payments up front and kept schtum. Now when the creditors close in and force the issue, we have lost our flights and are so far down the list of creditors to be reimbursed that even the camel drivers and dog barkers will be paid first. I doubt we will see any reimbursement any time soon. So our plans to move to France, to the villa are for all intents and purposes finished. Checking the airlines booking web pages for other airlines has confirmed that replacement tickets (if we could afford them) would be about 4 times what we paid Zoom.

So it seems our plans to move to France will have to be delayed at least until the dust settles from the Zoom fiasco and airlines ticket prices return the absurd levels that we would consider normal. In the mean time we are faced with the daunting task of trying to get our money back from Zoom Airlines, deposits back from car rental agencies in France, deposits back from the owner of the Villa in France, cancel the house sale. It is just an incredible total mess and the worst part is the fact that it is out of our control. We are helpless, with no way to force Zoom to return our funds, even less influence to get a similar flight deal to France from another airline. Once again we are at the complete and utter mercy of bad timing and bad luck.

We will get it worked out in the end, we always do but at this moment it seems incredibly frustrating and aggravating.

shoes? Not!

Do you remember when you were young, how you ran barefoot in the summer? Feeling the grass on your feet, the texture of warm pavement? So why are you wearing shoes right this moment? Is it because (almost) everyone does? Because the rules (what rules?) say you must? Because your boss says you must? Because the sign at the entrance says you must?

It’s probably for all of these reasons and many more myths that need to be forgotten, changed or unlearned. The truth is going barefoot is incredibly natural, more healthy for you and puts you in touch with your environment like few other experiences can. Wearing shoes cramps the feet, affects your posture, promotes athletes foot and a host of other nasties, costs more and is not particularly eco-friendly.

Going barefoot in the modern world is unusual perhaps (given our social mores) but is not particularly hazardous. Many of us work in offices, retail establishments, at home, schools and universities where the greatest hazard is having someone wearing oxfords stepping on our toes. There are lots of places where the hazards of the environment call for some sort of protection for your feet, factories, construction and overheated kitchens come to mind. However in general going barefoot is not hazardous at all. There are in fact no laws that prohibit going barefoot in any retail establishment, restaurant, office or while driving. Individual stores or establishments may well choose not to serve you if one is barefoot, that is their choice (to give up my sale) just as my choice is to go barefoot.

In the modern profit oriented materialistic society that we live in, even the big name athletic shoe makers have discovered that there may just be something to this barefoot thing and have started marketing “barefoot” sneakers. These are shoes that are more ergonomically designed to match walking barefoot, doing away with raised heels, arch supports, thick rubber soles and such. Seems like an ok way for the sneaker makers to get in on the game I guess but why not do away with the sneakers all together and go barefoot? I will be I assure you.

Happy barefooting!
Additional Reading:

New York Times article

Wikipedia says …

Vibram barefoot shoes

Running barefoot prt.1

Running barefoot prt.2

clothing optional …

Remember when you were young and you and your friends ran to the library to look at the pictures in the National Geographic’s? The ones showing the African or South American or South Sea Island natives in the all together?  I was reminded of this strangely enough by a radio news story about a German dude who was arrested for hiking in the Black Forest in the nude and was subsequently allowed to go to serve his sentence in the nude, ostensibly because he was a naturist. In remembering the N.G. pics, then as now what struck me most about them was not the naughty bits on display but the complete nonchalance and candidness of the pics. Those natives thought nothing about being in the buff, weren’t really displaying their naughty bits because no one in their society had spent 10000 or so years telling them they were naughty.

The incident in Germany, which reminded me of the N.G. pics also reminded me of a vacation I took a few years back to Panama and the nude beach I frequented there and further back in the stores of my memory a vacation I took with some friends in college to a naturist resort up near Ottawa. In both cases one shed their clothes at the entrance and thought nothing of it. At the beach were people of all sizes, shapes, colors, walks of life. Trouble was, we were all exceptionally equal there. We all had two arms, two legs, 10 fingers and toes and a few naughty bits (only considered naughty because we been told that for a few thousand years).  Nobody walked up and down the beach in total arousal, ogling the opposite sex, passing any kind of judgment related to appearance. Everyone was there to enjoy the sunshine, lounge about, read a book, swim in the ocean (an incredibly exhilarating and natural feeling, swimming naked in the salt water of the ocean).  It was the most natural thing in the world, put you in touch with the environment in a way that can never be matched when clothed and no we weren’t eaten alive by mosquitoes and black flies.

Recall the huge fuss and kerfluffal a few years back when a few women in Ontario chose to go topless in summer? There were court cases, media coverage and outrage on all fronts, it was going to be total anarchy they said. Why?  Because it’s taboo for women to go topless that’s why. No one blinks an eye when a man (good looking and muscled or 450 pounds ugly as all get out) goes topless, funny that. Mostly it’s because we equate nudity with sexuality, believe that the moment someone get naked (or even partially so) we’re all going to lose control, get aroused and do the things that everyone knows should be private. Truth is that is not so however.

Remember that vacation at the naturist camp I mentioned? I was in my last year of college in those days, so I was young (compared to my age these days) but still old enough to see the truth before me. The resort we stayed at could have been mistaken for any posh resort or KOA campground you care to mention. There were people playing tennis, lounging by the pools, kids canoeing in the lake, playing Frisbee. There were two major differences however, first there were no clothes to be seen anywhere, second there was no way to tell (by looking at the people there) who had arrived in the Mercedes 450SEL and who had arrived in the Ford Maverick. Everyone at that resort was just that, themselves, equal and any shape, size, color you could imagine. Couldn’t tell how rich how poor, what religion, what preference they were. They were just people, no taboos, no naughty bits, no embarrassments, no judgments.

So why do we wear clothes?  In the beginning way back when we were less civilized (some might argue that point what with modern wars, prejudice and inequalities) we wore clothes to keep us warm, keep the dudes in the next cave from bashing our heads in, to show off our hunting prowess and maybe attract the good looking girl on the other side of the cave. Funny how little things have changed over time? Modern clothes are the costume of society, the badge of office, the suit of armor for the business world. Kids can’t be cool if their shoes aren’t Nike, their jeans aren’t DKNY. You can’t be a professional if you’re dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. You can’t be better off than the Jones’s if you shop at Wal-Mart instead of Neiman-Marcus. Oh and don’t forget, you can’t display any of the naughty bits; we’ll all lose control of ourselves.

commentary to my last post

My last post was an expression of the horror and shock I felt at the events that unfolded at Virginia Polytechnic yesterday. I have little doubt that these events will spark more talk about gun control both in the US and here in Canada so I’ll add my two cents worth. In the US one of the most overused arguments against gun control are the lines in the constitution that state every citizen has the right to bear arms. When those lines were written, the US was a much different place, still a forming country. The statesmen who wrote them were I am sure considering times of war and invasion, not while attending college and University.

Another much over used argument is that of home defense. A few years back I received a catalogue from a US based home defense outfit that was addressed to a previous occupant of my current residence. You would not believe what it was possible to order from this catalogue, everything from a small hand gun to a large automatic, from a fully non-metallic glock ( a hand gun that will easily pass through metal detector gates) to a fully automatic assault rifle to a belt fed 50 caliber machine gun! What do these home defense companies anticipate? That a navy seal team will be invading your house? It’s ridiculous to think that such items could possibly be legitimately owned by normal citizenry.

How is it possible that we can allow such businesses not only to exist but to thrive? Is there any reason (reasonable or otherwise) that I might give the authorities so they would let me go hunting with an AK-47? Shooting gophers with a 44 Magnum autoloader? No! Banning all hand guns from citizenry most likely wouldn’t get rid of all gun crimes since criminals can always get a gun, however it might make it a lot more difficult for a despairing student to carry to loaded handguns (and extra ammunition) in a college and kill more than thirty students. As for assault rifles, belt fed machine guns and 75 caliber sniper rifles, no member of the citizenry should ever be able to own guns such as these, they belong in the hands of the military and other authorities (that’s a rant for another day).

Now some, like sport shooters would balk at the thought of banning hand guns. I would say, too damn bad. Contrary to what the NRA might say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, I would say that it is people carry guns that kill people. No citizen ought to be able to carry a gun anywhere. Sport shooters can have their guns “checked” and locked up at the gun club, useable only at the gun club, never leaving the premises. Those few who still go hunting should have to register and check in their guns with the local police (or RCMP?) only retrieving them on presentation of a valid hunting license. No exceptions. Criminals will always have guns, eventually they will meet their fate, citizens should not have guns. My two cents.

the environment, health and all that

Have you ever wondered about this modern environment we live in? I have. Something like two hundred years ago when my great great great grad father came to this country there was no electricity, no smog and no one even had a word for microwaves, radar and electromagnetic pulses. two hundred years before that, this continent didn’t even have much of the disease’s, germs and bad breath imported from settlers from Europe.

These days we hear a lot about “organic” food grown without pesticides, insecticides and all the rest of the genetically enhanced, chemically purified mumbo jumbo that goes into most crops and livestock. I am a vegetarian (still eat dairy, eggs and some fish though) and I try to eat healthy, limiting fats and such. However more and more often I feel it is a losing battle and a false economy. In the modern world, this one where we rise every morning and go to bed each night, we are bombarded every moment of the day by all manner of things totally foreign to the natural environment of our distant ancestors. Every day we are subject to microwaves (radar, cell phones, TV, radio, satellite), smog and bad air from cars, trucks, planes, industrial pollution, noise pollution, and about a zillion other things that never occurred naturally a few hundred years ago.

Scientists, politicians and industry would have you believe that all this has no effect on us, that global warming is a hoax and that the 40 million barrels crude oil spilled into the sea by the latest busted tanker will all dissapate and be absorbed by the environment. Well here’s the wake up call cause we’re the environment, us and the 47000 species of animals that share (now 46999 species as one goes extinct every few seconds) this planet. We’re the ones absorbing the spills, the pollutants, the microwaves and whatever else we have added to the air, water and soil around us.

There is no getting away from it either, I read recently an article on the Internet about old growth forests in Northern Ontario dying off due to polluted air. This same article talked about fish poisoned with cyanide in India and dead rivers in Mexico. We, you and I and everyone else who enjoys Late Night with David Letterman while lounging in our nylon jammies in the back of our Limousines whilst chatting on our cell phones are having a massive affect on the environment, all environments. We are rapidly using up non-renewable resources, use virtually everything to excess, bulldoze our forests and farm lands to build ritzy condos for rich business men, demand bigger more gas guzzling, more pollutive SUVs to show how successful we are and generally think about our environment last if at all.

Yesterday while commuting to work (I drive a Honda civic by the way) I heard a report on the radio about 15 local mayors lamenting the fact that the latest gas guzzler tax (up to $8000 for the worst offenders) was going to cause a major downturn in the local auto industry. Did the reporter(or the mayors) note that the local auto industry (and the auto industry in general) turns out more gas guzzling, environmentally unfriendly cars than fuel efficient environmentally ones? Puzzle me this, does anyone really need a two and a half ton four wheel drive SUV with 18″ of drive over clearance to commute the one and a half miles to their downtown office? Is it really necessary to drive around town in a 500 HP, V-10 pick up truck whose back box is covered up so can’t possibly carry the leather sofa home from Leons? Does a 1000HP, two seat sports car that gets 3.5 miles per gallon (and that’s Brit gallons, not mini-American gallons!) make any sense? In all of the above I would say no!

It’s not all doom and gloom however, in the last week I have seen advertisements for at least 5 different hybrid cars, cars that run on electricity and/or gas. These cars apparently get better gas mileage, pollute less and are much more environmentally friendly. They have been around for a few years now but are just starting to be promoted and get some exposure. Here once again I think it is the auto manufactures who are at fault for the lack of popularity of the hybrids. First is the styling of the cars, remember the first Honda hybrid to be marketed? It looked like it was a direct transplant from that 70’s Brit show about invading aliens, I think it was called UFO. Then there is the pricing, hybrids typically cost about ten grand more than there pure gas brethren. That’s a high price to pay when the savings (in fuel economy) are not really that spectacular. My Honda civic will go 675 Km on one tank of gas while a friend of mine claims her hybrid will go 1000 km. I can’t say for sure but I think it would take some considerable time to make up the ten grand price difference in just gas savings alone. Then there is the advertising, until this week I could name only two hybrid cars on the market, could count the number of hybrid ads on one hand even though they had been on the market at least a few years. As i said however, the manufacturers do seem to be learning, there are now more ads and apparently many more hybrids to choose from. Maybe there is hope for us after all.

Visit David Suzuki’s blog as well