Tuesday, November 17, 2015

PC can... (fold in ways Macs cannot) ... and then, it is finished.

You've probably seen all these new PC can... advertisements from Intel.

They're almost all extremely accurate.  In fact, Lenovo's Flex and Yoga lines of laptop computers have been extremely interesting to me.

I have a Flex 14 on the way.  (Flex is apparently Yoga on a low cost diet.) US$749.99 doesn't seem bad for a dual core i7, 1920x1080 touch-enabled display with Intel 520 graphics, 8 GB of RAM and 1 TB hard drive.  I've already seen this one work and it seems reliable, and a good (but not great) performer.  It folds into multiple different configurations, including a convertible/tablet much better than the original IBM ThinkPad from the 1990s.  It's about 1/3 the price of something refurbished I'd be buying from Apple.  I'm not saying that they would be equivalent machines, though.

Lenovo Flex 3 14

Now, I haven't been a Windows user, by choice, since Windows 3.1 on an IBM L40SX.  I used Windows 98SE for a while because I had a machine given to me.  I was like the PC manager in the Mac advertisements who went home to his Mac after an unhappy day handling Windows problems.  24 years is a long interval between a desire to use Windows but things have changed.  To me, Microsoft had always been a pain, with their sloppy coding, anti-competitive attitude, and unwillingness to take care of bugs and security problems.  With Windows 7, they started to change all that, and I considered what they did to be an opportunity to switch.

Windows 10 is good.  Is it great?  I'll let you know.  What's not great is Apple's attitude toward my productivity.  I'm currently using a machine that was introduced in mid-2012, a 2.6 GHz Quad Core i7 MacBook Pro.  I immediately replaced the hard drive with a 480 GB SSD and put 16 GB of RAM into it, as well.  Today, it's a good machine but three years is quite a long time for a computer.  When I'm working it hard with hundreds of photographs or video processing, the CPU is reporting that it is hot enough to boil water.

That's not the real problem, though.  Apple's attitude toward software quality changed quite a while ago during Mac OS X 10.5 when Avie Tevanian left the company.  They became sloppy and careless.  They didn't care about security.  It has continued and has been exacerbated by the iPad and iPhone, and in the last week or so, there was an announcement from Blizzard/Activision that the latest game would not be available for Mac, unlike previous dual operating system releases from Blizzard.  Part of the problem is that OpenGL has not been updated for a very long time.  Apparently, the Metal game functionality is not friendly, ready, or perhaps, it just has a big learning curve.

I don't expect this newer 2.5 GHz dual core i7 in the Lenovo laptop will be faster than that of my 2012 MacBook Pro but it has the Turbo mode, even though there are only half the cores to compete against the older quad core i7.  Considering that I want to use this for video creation and light gaming, it should be enough.  Applications have certainly become more complicated.  I need to learn whether it will accept a 16 GB RAM card in its single slot.  I suspect it may need the extra working space, although Windows 10 should be efficient even though it is early in its commercial existence.

It should be interesting to see the various games from Valve Software that I have on Steam, work on Windows 10, if they're even compatible yet.

I was helping the person who got it first to get some extra browsers, register the machine, and get started with a video project.  I was really unhappy with the trackpad because I would try to click and the cursor would move each time.  He said to double tap the trackpad and that worked incredibly well.  I'd seen reviews complaining about the trackpad, so maybe there isn't a real problem.  Let's see how right-click works.  Two finger scrolling works almost as well as with my Macs.

We'll see how I like it when I get it Wednesday or so.

Update 2015.11.18: Everything is here.  I've downloaded Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, as well as loading Sony Movie Studio Suite.

I'm enjoying some frustration.  Things have not worked as well as I would have expected but there is a new computer and a new operating system, plus the keyboard and trackpad are surprising me.  I suppose that I will survive.

It seems that Lenovo isn't happy with the inbuilt Intel graphics hardware.  I don't know if this is a problem with the diagnostics or if the graphics hardware is actually broken or just lacking.  Another of the Lenovo applications was trying to download an update for their photo application and it wasn't able to do it for whatever reason.  The good thing is that I checked for Superfish and it didn't exist.

Mathematical Operations?

I've used about 4 GB today getting updates.  What's strange is that Windows says that it's getting critical updates but then, McAfee LiveSafe (I think that's what it is) managed to find 4 other updates, including 2 that were marked critical.  Flash was included in those, but that's a weekly security update anyway.  Die, Flash, die!

I'm guessing that this probably wasn't the whole big update that is available, so that will take more bandwidth from my monthly allowance.  It's always tough getting a new machine going, isn't it?

I'm thinking about ditching McAfee for Bitdefender, especially since the McAfee suite is just a trial package.  I know that none are perfect but there can be so many exploits that I need something truly strong.  Bitdefender and Kapersky have the best ratings. Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware is suggested to be an excellent companion to anti-virus.  It's not cheap to be safe but why let your machine be compromised and have it helping the bad guys take what they want and slow you down?

Update 2015.11.19: Software Update found system version 1511, I believe it was--the big one.

It used another 3 GB but completed.  Hopefully, the stability will be improved and they didn't introduce too many new problems.  It's a new Microsoft, right?

Actually, it didn't.  I used an approximate total of 7 GB since I powered on the machine.  That would be a lot of updates.

Update 2015.11.20: Switching between shapes/orientations is interesting.  I wasn't able to use it in tent mode yet.  It was sliding quite a lot, possibly because the rubberized material around the computer half was not used around the display half.  It has a harder finish, continued from the cover.

I was able to use it in convertible/tablet mode.  It is effective, but having used an actual tablet, using a 14 inch convertible is not comfortable.  Using it in display only mode, with the keyboard upside down worked the best.  The only real problem is that the on-screen keyboard is not automatically activated when needed.  However, this is sometimes a problem with my 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet.

The physical keyboard has been a problem and is a problem as I'm trying to write this.  It isn't necessary to jam so many keys in so little space.  If the cursor keys would have been moved lower, they wouldn't be so actively in my way.  Backspace either works amazingly quickly or the computer beeps at me.  However, this is a new user problem.

Similarly, the split trackpad has a learning curve.  I've been using a Mac trackpad since 2005.  That one had a single button.  The newer, mid-2012 model had no button.  Both use 2 fingers to right-click.  Accidental cursor movement while starting to type has been a problem.

One thing that works quite well, unexpectedly well, is the Windows Store.  I have been unhappy with Apple's Mac App Store and sometimes, the iTunes store.  The Mac App Store software often has a problem with downloads and purchases, for me.

e.g., I went to download One Drive, and it immediately failed.  It suggested that I retry the operation from the Purchases page.  The same thing happened.  (It was interesting to see the word "Error", as this was forbidden in the early days of the Macintosh.)  I waited a couple of hours and after two times, the download and installation was successful.  Using the Windows store, updates worked immediately.

It's good to see that Microsoft has seen enough competition to re-think their desire to survive.

2015.11.27: Having bought the Malwarebytes Premium Anti-Malware, Anti-Exploit package, installing it was necessary, and slightly painful.  The Anti-Exploit application was installed easily.  The Anti-Malware kept saying "Downloading" but it never finished.  The company gave me a link to a download and after this was installed, clicking "Activation" allowed me to enter the licensing information.

I've been noticing that the display is economical.  Sure, it has a resolution of 1920x1080 but the refresh rate is 60 Hz.  It has ten touch recognition. which is great, if you happen to use ten at once.  Perhaps, two people could finger paint at the same time or play finger twister.  The real trouble with the display is the depth of the color.  I put up one of my photos from around sunset and there is nasty banding that isn't in the photo itself.  At least, it doesn't display a posterization sort of effect.

Update 2015.12.02: I saw a Yoga model for the same price, which was approximately the same but allowed more RAM, had an m7 instead of I7, was thinner, and had an amazing surface texture.  I don't really need thinner but 16 GB of RAM would be good for video processing.  I keep looking and it seems almost completely the same inside except for the SSD and the maximum RAM.

I'd think a dual core I7 with 8 GB of RAM would be plenty for general speediness and it has yet to show that.  Perhaps, it's just that Windows 10 is so new and that I'm accustomed to a fast SSD on Mac OS X instead of a 5400 rpm hard drive.  Perhaps, Windows 10 needs to become accustomed to what I do.

I recently bought a new Panasonic 25mm f/1.7 lens and Adorama offered me a discount on the already discounted Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements 14.  I installed it on the Windows machine, as I'm still not comfortable with the Sony Movie Studio package and I want some familiarity with Premiere, even a junior version.  Naturally, after installation, there was a 130 MB update.

I still haven't decided on anti-virus software because there are three versions of Bitdefender.  The minimum is probably enough, as I removed the McAfee LiveSafe or whatever, and I'm now running Windows Defender for anti-virus and firewall with Malwarebytes anti-malware and anti-exploit.

Update 2016.07.10: That is finished. I gave away the Flex 3 the other day to someone whose laptop computer was destroyed.

I spent way too much time updating and not using it, so this is a better solution.

It's a bit sad that a machine from 2012 was faster and more capable.  Thank goodness I didn't buy anything with a Core M processor.  I'm sure i would have been upset.  However, the touch screen technology was interesting.  It occasionally made things more usable.

Update 2016.07.31: Newegg has refurbished models for around US$500, including the Flex 3 I had and the 15.6 inch model with a nVidia GT940M.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Volkswagen, who knew what?

I am directly affected by the diesel emissions controversy.  I am disappointed, not upset.

Many people have pointed out that the cars are pouring out 40 times the legal limit of emissions but I often pass cars and trucks from the 1960s, which are probably worse.  There are also boats, which don't seem to be restricted at all, and trucks have been given a virtual pass for years.  Even trucks in the 1990s pollute quite heavily, as I recall.

What is important to me is who knew that this software was in place.  Was the engineering team as far as the involvement went, or did it go from there all the way up to the CEO?

I know that the CEO wanted some incredible goals reached.  They were possible but at the cost, where they achievable?  I don't believe so.  If that was the case, wouldn't Mercedes-Benz be using the cheaper controls over Bluetec?

So, now, there are something like 11 million cars that are affected, including some that use gasoline.

Another question I have is how many other companies have cheated?  Considering how many companies tried to cheat safety goals, should we consider any company beyond suspicion?  I don't believe so.

I was sadly amused that former General Motors boss Bob Lutz made some nasty comments about Volkswagen on CNBC.  What got me most was that he said that GM never meant to kill people with their ignition switch design cheapening.  His tone told me that all those deaths were not even important to him.  That's just so CEO-like.

I would not be surprised if GM, Ford, Chrysler, Fiat, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda, and others will be found to have cheated on emissions and fuel economy tests.  We only know from Volkswagen that their cheating was real.

Hopefully, this will push regulatory agencies to develop better ways to deal with everything.  Laziness is unacceptable.

As far as VW is being pushed, they have developed a Customer Goodwill Package to calm their customers:

Update 2015.12.01: Carbon Dioxide emissions are also being investigated.  As well, the fuel economy in Europe is supposedly 18% lower than stated.  I haven't seen exactly which vehicles, but that is somewhat more difficult to gauge, from my experience.

I believe my 1999 Golf GLS was supposed to get 30 at highway speeds and I was getting 35 mpg without air conditioning and 25 mpg with air conditioning.  This 2012 Golf TDI is rated at 42 and I've gotten a high of 48.8 mpg on a trip through the mountains.   However, when I'm aggressive, I usually get around 35.5 mpg--driving 80 to 90 mph does hurt fuel economy but California traffic rarely goes slowly--unless it's in the passing lane on state road 99.

I see plenty of news on the company and not that they're making progress on figuring out what to do, but more of it is petty--clickbait, if you will.

Oh, and supposedly CEO Martin Winterkorn knew a year before the situation became public--disappointing.

Update 2016.10.31: It's almost over.  In the next few weeks, they're supposed to start paying for the cars they're buying back.  In addition, the money that would go for fixing the emissions problem is added to the buy back price total.

I'm skeptical, as I never received the Goodwill package after two registrations.  It's time to put all this behind me.

Update 2016.11.18: I uploaded my documents to the Volkswagen diesel web site, and supposedly, they're in the process of determining my eligibility.  I'm wondering what more I need to prove.  I could swear that they should be kissing my behind for being patient with them.

I need this to end soon.  My life is ending but I still have to pay bills until I die.  Even though it says that they'll contact me within 10 days, it all feels quite uncertain.  That added to my not receiving the Goodwill package (plus my horrid health and lack of money) leaves me uncomfortable.

First Impressions of my 4th generation Apple TV

I bought a 4th generation Apple TV yesterday, along with a Steelseries game controller.

I've been waiting a while, since the Ouya Android-based game micro-console.  The Nvidia Shield micro-console looked particularly good recently.  I have an Apple iPhone 6 and a 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet, so I'm familiar with both mobile operating systems and their games.

However, as far as connecting anything to the TV, I've only connected my old DVR, DirecTV DVR, and my Blu-Ray player.  The TV and Blu-Ray player have many connections to the outside world, so buying an older Apple TV, Roku, or Google box had no appeal.

Connecting the Apple TV wasn't difficult.  I wanted to connect it to the computer first, so it would take my current iTunes library of movies, TV episodes, music videos, and music and store them in the extra storage the 64GB model would have.  There is no such connection.  In fact, the only cable was a USB to Lightning cable for the remote control, for charging.

So, the actual connections are power and HDMI, and they don't include the HDMI cable.

As it was starting, I had some extra "fun" with my TV complaining that the signal didn't match the Deep Color that was expected.  I had to make some setting changes on the TV that most people will not have to make.

It wanted to connect to my phone but they could not meet in the middle.  It detected my phone over Bluetooth immediately, but since I didn't have the phone connected to the local network over my mobile hotspot, it wasn't able to grab the settings from my phone.  (They haven't found each other over Bluetooth since then.  The phone is on iOS 9.1 and I wonder if it's just too buggy still.)

The Apple TV wanted to connect to the internet, which I did through the odd keyboard.

You have to slide across the keyboard and select by clicking on a character.

The keyboard was alphabetical, which I suppose is easier than showing QWERTY, AZERTY, QWERTZ, or whatever pattern each country uses, but it made entry slower for me.

There really wasn't much to set up.  I selected my country and language, and it did some configuration.

There wasn't much included except for the apps to buy music, TV episodes, or movies and those apps to connect to the computer and get other apps.

I immediately downloaded the YouTube app, but couldn't decide on games or anything else.  Later, I bought and downloaded the Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising game, as I've been playing the series since the original iOS version of Galaxy on Fire.

The YouTube app required a link through an activation code to connect to my YouTube account.  The game wanted to connect to Game Center, of course.  It also downloaded more content, much like the Android-based version of Galaxy on Fire 2 HD does.  Perhaps, the iOS version does this, but it doesn't mention it or make you wait.

The game uses the remote control.  It is both simple and frustrating.  It seems to lose calibration easily, and it is much easier to go left than to go right.  The game is quite amazing looking, as with their previous games.  For playing only a few minutes, I feel as though it will be a great game with more familiarity, and with fixes.

When I was in an Apple Store, I tried the Geometry Wars game and it seemed to work well with the remote, but I had no idea how to play the game.  I think the games that use the remote, and using the remote to play them will take acclimation time.

I have a Steelseries game controller and I have yet to pair it to anything.  There is a companion app on iOS, and I downloaded that.  I'm currently charging the controller, which uses a Lightning connector.  The box has graphics indicating that it works with iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, and Mac.  US$50.00 doesn't seem that much.

As Asphalt 8 Airborne is available, I'm thinking that the controller will be very useful.  I've got the game now and it not only works well, but it looks great.  The game controller is useful but the control scheme isn't yet comfortable.  The best thing about the game may be a bug--my purchases from the handheld game are available, as I downloaded the iCloud data.  This was another that downloaded more content quite often.  Given that the iOS/Android app runs about 1.5 GB and the tvOS app was about 450MB, I would expect every unplayed course will have to be downloaded, as well as cars.

I was intrigued by the Pangea games' 3D capability.  I haven't played any of those games for years, but Bugdom was a bit of fun.  I have 3D capability on my TV, as well as 4K resolution, so this should be interesting.

Oh, and this version of Apple TV does not support 4K.  I get the feeling in a year, they'll put out a version with upgraded hardware capable of 4K, especially since the Nvidia Shield already supports the resolution.

I'm looking at potential more than anything else right now.

Update 2015.11.11: The minor software update to the operating system was very minor.   I haven't noticed any differences.

Update 2015.11.26: How is it that the remote control is worth US79.00 when the Wii Remote Plus is only US$49.99, and the Steelseries game controller Apple is selling in their stores is only US$49.95?

You'd think that it would be easier to grip since it is meant to be used with games.  You'd think that there would be a strap included instead of being available for another US$12.99.

You might also think that the remote might have a headphone jack, so you could listen remotely.

I like the latest Apple TV.  I'm just annoyed that it seems to be experimental at this point.  I expect Google to sell products in this way but Apple should know better.  The MacBook Air took a long time to become desirable to me, and then, they brought out the MacBook that was even more extreme.

As this year is ending, they will most likely push out some small change and a bigger change around February.  Eventually, it will feel good and all other products will feel ancient and clunky.  Right now, it works, just.

Update 2015.12.02: Thankfully, the games can be played without an internet connection.  Unfortunately, music, music videos, movies, and TV episodes cannot be seen because they are not copied to the device.

So far, I have three games: Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and Geometry Wars 3.  The Galaxy on Fire games have been intense.  When I played the first, I often had to power off/power on the 2nd generation iPod touch.  Even when I had moved to an iPhone 4S, Galaxy on Fire 2 was often very intense for the phone and then, the HD version came along.  It's only with the iPhone 6 that it's been particularly good.

It will take a while for Apple to fix tvOS and the games will need to be smoothed out plenty of times.  The hobby needs to be given a higher priority.

Update 2015.12.04: I finished the story mode of Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising but I have to say that the performance was so slow when busy that the game wasn't much fun.   Even the network connection was dropped a couple of times.

The trouble will probably be alleviated by April with various efficiency improvements between tvOS and the game but it's obvious that this box is underpowered at the moment.  That's probably why it doesn't support 4K, even though it's technically possible with the CPU and GPU.

Update 2015.12.05: Since Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising was updated to support game controllers, I waited a while and tried it today.  The game isn't fighting me.  Supposedly, there is a problem with the remote control.  Strictly, performance isn't any better but I've managed to complete waves much more quickly and get time bonuses on some.  Since I can actually focus on one enemy vessel and it doesn't move much, I can get rid of it quickly.  It was enough of an improvement that I went from something like 219,000 to 326,000.

Previously, I thought the achievement badge (in Game Center) of getting through 30 levels was completely nuts and now, it seems that 10 levels should be easily repeatable.

Still, it's not smooth yet.  Between the controller and the TV, the movement is a bit jerky but it goes where I want it, mostly.

Update 2015.12.08: The tvOS 9.1 update has smoothed things a bit.  The remote control itself works better in GoF:MR.  It still seems as though the game is fighting me, compared to the game controller, but it is close to being what it should be.

Manual Update seems much like iOS on the phone

It still doesn't help when the system is too busy.  Seeing that it has disconnected from the network is troubling.  When I was playing a game with the remote, it also said that the game controller had been disconnected.  Since the game controller has only one real function, I'm fairly sure that it wasn't the one which disconnected from the Apple TV.

Update 2016.03.22: tvOS 9.2 arrived and I saw a minor performance improvement.  I'm still seeing the network connection go away during Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising, which is a very busy game.  It seems to me that the Apple TV should have been tested and tuned much better than this.  I hoped that almost all of the problems would be fixed with this release, but that's definitely not true.  Of course, they added a lot of functionality into this release, such as enabling Bluetooth keyboards, that was available in the previous generation.

Update 2016.10.04: The 3rd generation Apple TV has been discontinued.  With tvOS 10, my 4th generation Apple TV seems good, but still not great.  You'd think that the A8 processor would be enough but it doesn't seem to be.  They haven't improved performance enough, which is sad.  Hopefully, getting rid of the 3rd generation model will give development resources to the 4th generation model.

Update 2016.12.14: tvOS 10.1.1 is out and they've included a new TV app that helps you attach to your other apps, if they're compatible, and connect to the store.  So far, it only connected to the CW app, but I suppose others will make their content compatible for easy access in one place.  I have seen some fight for control of TV, which is why generation 4 of Apple TV is a set top box and not a whole TV line.   Apple should probably just buy a cable company and make enhancements, as SBC/AT&T has recently done to create DirecTV Now.

I'm not sure whether the performance of tvOS is enhanced or not.  I played Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising for a few minutes and only got one network disconnection message.  I suspect not much has changed and it was only my short play time that caused the difference.  I didn't get powerups that normally slow things down.

However, I am happy with the box.  I've been able to watch local news, TV shows, and more as though they belonged on the TV.  Even YouTube videos look good.

Update 2017.03.27: tvOS has been updated yet again, this time to 10.2.  There are few changes and I haven't used it much yet.  It's naturally becoming more stable, but it's still not finished.

I remember expecting excellent performance by April 2016.  It's almost one year later and it still isn't great.  The fact that they're only supporting a maximum of 1920x1080 makes me think that they're making a load of money on the box.  If Android boxes can support 4K resolution, why didn't Apple?

There has been one notable recent change for me.  When Apple TV asks for text entry, my iPhone wakes up and presents me with a keyboard.