Apple, Computers, Hardware, Software, Thoughts, Windows

What Ever Happened to Multi-tasking?

fix-computerToday we take multi-tasking for granted. Right now, as you read this you probably have a browser window open, perhaps email, instant messenger, your music player, perhaps anti-virus software running. If you had to run one, and only one application at a time I think we can agree that it would significantly affect your productivity. I have a difficult time even imagining computing without the ability to multi-task. However, the importance of this core computing concept seems to be called into question with new appliances.

When you look at a computer, it is very different from an appliance, such as your game console, your DVR, or your smartphone. One could argue that each type of electronic device has a purpose, and constraints that interfere with achieving this purpose. In the case of a video game console, the purpose is entertainment. A console’s constraints are the need to be consistent, and offer high performance with limited hardware. With a DVR, its purpose is to manage scheduled shows. A DVR’s constraints are optimal playback quality, and near real-time schedulers. With a smartphone, its purpose is to keep people connected while on the go. A phone’s constraints are probably the most severe with extremely limited hardware, coupled with short battery life.

In devices where performance is a key factor, such as video game consoles, and DVRs, I believe you are likely to see less control given to a user. This is to keep the running environment “pristine” and prevent non-core applications from adversely robbing the limited hardware of CPU cycles, and resources. This is the dreaded scenario of any computing device – some process (that the user may not even be aware of) is affecting the performance of the entire device.

To my knowledge, the iPhone was the first smartphone that really encouraged the installation of applications onto the device by the user. This would mean that since users have choice to modify the software running on the phone, the performance of these applications running  could affect the performance of the entire device. In order to work with the extreme constraints of the device, Apple made the decision to remove multi-tasking from their OS. This has been a controversial decision, however one that has not affected the success of this device.

Now other appliances are following the paradigm of no multi-tasking. Microsoft recently announced the Windows Phone 7 OS, and it is rumored to not have multi-tasking support. While this rumor may be unfounded, the Apple iPad device also offers no multi-tasking. The success of this device, and the market that this device will fill is yet to be determined, but the inroads to daily computing without multi-tasking can be seen. A tablet device has a purpose, and constraints parallel to that of a smartphone.

Video game consoles have never offered multitasking until recently, and even now it is very limited. Coupled with smartphones, and tablet devices, the perspective of multi-tasking on the computer seems to be the exception, and not the norm. It can almost be argued that no multi-tasking is a feature that boosts the performance of a device.

Is this how the world will fix the “slow device” problem? Hardware and batteries are constantly improving, but we never seem to get ahead of the curve, since applications become more complex at roughly the same rate. “What Intel giveth, Microsoft taketh away.” Eliminating multi-tasking sure gives devices an unconventional speed boost, but is it seems like a step backwards? Can the human mind truly multi-task anyways?

One final note: it would seem to me that perhaps a solution lies in the UNIX solution of prioritizing process by “nicing” them.

What are your thoughts?

Hardware, Personal

Chrysler Sebring vs Sony MEX-BT2700

mexbt27001It is done. It seems like just yesterday when I installed a custom car stereo into my Chrysler Sebring. After many months of enjoyment, someone felt they were more entitled to my stereo than I was, and made off with it. Thanks buddy (burn in hell)! I have been riding around with my totally awesome factory stereo for too long now, and my wife got me the Sony MEX-BT2700 stereo. It has everything I wanted: HD Radio, MP3 players, Bluetooth calling and music streaming, an auxiliary in port in the front, and a remote control. What follows is my intriguing tale of its installation:

Chrysler’s cryptic wiring schematics look like a mentally retarded child with a 24-count box of Crayola crayons went to town on their blueprints for the Sebring. I decided to get a wiring harness to bypass all of that nonsense this time. I also decided that instead of making my arm bend in awkward positions, I would use a jack and remove the left front tire to get at the car battery. The “maintenance free” battery placement is the most aggregating part of working on my car. The consequences of Chrysler’s placement have ensured that any future car I own will have a battery that is easily accessible. I also ordered a universal mount for my stereo. With these choices, I figured this would be a walk in the park. I was almost right.

The wiring harness was a snap to connect – just connect the colors. The mount fit as advertised. With the wheel gone, it was much easier to get at the battery. I connected my car stereo, reconnected the battery, turned the keys in the ignition and did an inadequate test. I turned the radio to the tuner, and checked that all four speakers were producing sound. They were, and I wrapped everything up and called it a day too prematurely. My test drive was out to the store, and I discovered on the way that the CD player didn’t produce sound, though it looked like it should. I fiddled with all the options, and sure enough, it was spinning the disc, but not producing sound.

I got home, and looked at the manual, and discovered that the Bluetooth source, and the Auxiliary source had the same issue. My phone was connected both times, but sound failed to come out of the car speakers. I did some Googling with no result, and then did a live chat with Sony customer support. The support was slow, but surprisingly helpful – it put me on the right path to resolve my issue.

The next day I cut the wheel in the right, then left fashion needed to get at the battery without removing it (thanks again Chrysler), and disconnected the battery. I then pulled the stereo out, and messed with the wiring in a few combinations from what the support instructed me to do.  From their documentation:

If there is no sound or the amplifier turns off when playing a CD, but there is sound and the amplifier is on when playing the radio, then you may have the solid blue (antenna remote lead – ANT REM) and blue striped (amplifier remote lead – AMP REM) wires connected incorrectly. Try switching these wire connections. In vehicles designed to supply power to the amplifier through the antenna power supply, connect the solid blue antenna wire to the solid red ignition wire. In all other vehicles, connect the blue and white amplifier turn-on wire to the solid red ignition wire.

My first point of confusion is that I don’t have an amp in my car. Apparently this is still applicable. The second point of confusion is that the solid red wires should be connected to the power antenna wire along with the existing power antenna wire. This means that three wires are connected to the power antenna wire (the two red wires, plus the blue wire). In total, I believe this to be 24V of power (12V from red, 12V from blue). I was hesitant to do this for fear of damaging the unit. Apparently, this is by design, however and it will not work unless you do this step.  After this, I hesitantly reconnected the stereo, and voila – it works.

I wanted to throw this out there in case any else has run into a similar problem with their car, or with their stereo.

Hardware, Software, Thoughts, Windows

Windows 7 Upgrade Isn’t All Gravy

Windows 7 logoI decided to give the gift of Windows 7 for the holidays this year. My in-laws had the unfortunate luck of replacing their old desktop with Windows ME to a new computer from Dell with Windows Vista 32-bit Home Premium. It seems they have leapfrogged to the worst OS ever released from the previous worst OS ever released. The fact they kept Windows ME running for almost five years should deserve some kind of medal.

I am running the license-unencumbered Windows 7 beta on my wife’s machine, and I have been fairly pleased with the results. On this positive experience, I took the plunge, and bought the Windows 7 Professional 64-bit upgrade. Lets break this down for a moment. There are (at least) four editions of Windows 7:

.
  • Home Basic
  • Home Premium
  • Professional
  • Enterprise (formerly Business?)
  • Ultimate

The good old comparison page over at Microsoft indicates that each “step up” in version encompasses all the functionalities of the lesser versions, plus some more stuff. This is a lie.

While this may be true for features, the upgrade paths seem to have been determined with a dart board (or more likely greed). Looking at upgrade paths for Windows Vista only, we can see the following:

From Windows Vista (SP1, SP2) Upgrade to Windows 7
Business Professional, Enterprise, Ultimate
Enterprise Enterprise
Home Basic Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate
Home Premium Home Premium, Ultimate
Ultimate Ultimate

If you were like me, you may have sprung for the extras in the “Professional” edition, but stopped short of “Ultimate” since the features it offers over Professional are pretty lame. My in-laws machine is currently running Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit edition, and you can see that by spending more on Professional then Home Premium, I have lost my ability to upgrade. Thats right, you pay more and get less.

This has led to some extravagant solutions. The easiest is to go buy the Windows 7 Ultimate Upgrade, but refunds on opened software are non-existent. Plus, I do not want to give any more money to a company that I feel has already cheated me. Another option is to use a utility to change which edition you have an upgrade disc for. Windows 7 ships with all editions on each disc, and this tool will let you change which one you have. Alternately, you can download a digital copy of a different edition for free.

This doesn’t affect the product key though. A Windows 7 Professional key will only activate the same edition.

To upgrade from Home Professional, I would have to acquire a Windows 7 Home Professional Upgrade disc using one of the methods above. I would then have to install Windows 7 Home Professional, and then use the the Windows Anytime Upgrade to do an in place upgrade from Windows 7 Home Professional to Windows 7 Professional. Then, I can use my Windows 7 Professional product key to activate my copy.

Navigate all that, and keep in mind to watch out for 32-bit and 64-bit since they are not cross-upgradeable, or interchangeable whatsoever. The RAM requirements are even different.

So much for Windows 7 being easy.

Computers, Hardware, Open-source, Personal, Software, Thoughts, Web

Google Set for World Domination

googleI don’t know what has happened in the last six or so months, but my relationship with Google has drastically changed. It started out with their superior searching – it wasn’t quick for me to ditch everything else in favor of Google’s search engine. When Gmail came out, I remember laughing about how excited people were to get a coveted invitation. To me they were a search company who was using their name to advertise what should have been a sub-par email solution.  Now, I am a fan of Gmail.

Next, I remember using Google Maps, then Google Docs. Then came Google Picasa, and I was clued into Google Analytics.

Now is the point in my story where we arrive at Google Calendar. The interface was really good, and I noticed that whatever task I wanted to do always seemed to be right where I was looking for it – no doubt the product of heavy usability testing. When I compared it to Outlook webmail’s calendar interface, I remember laughing at how pathetic Microsoft’s offering was.

This is when I reached critical mass with Google’s products. Quickly following came Reader, the Chrome browser, my new Android phone (a Motorola Cliq), Listen, Wave, Checkout, iGoogle, and Products!

I think that Google is the only company that can provide a consistent, integrated, cohesive experience that rivals what Apple offers its users. I am at the point now where if Google moved to a subscription based model, I would almost undoubtedly pay whatever the monthly fee was.

Congrats Google on continuously creating, and updating solid, tested, quality products!

Computers, Events, Family, Hardware, Personal, Software, Windows

Ch…Ch…Ch…Changes

Life has been busy lately. I have stopped teaching in our Continuing Education program, and focused my time on completing my degree starting this summer.

I am currently taking two classes that are 100% online. It has been an adjustment for me for a few reasons. First, being a student again is hard. There is a lot of shit to shovel. Second, I am seeing our new systems operate like the Portal, WebCT, etc from the outside. I have to resist the temptation of “troubleshooting” mode, where I explore ways to make the process better and just focus on the classes. Third, I never got real familiar with WebCT, and pacing myself and doing everything electronically is surprising harder than it sounds. I am having fun though, and that is what counts.

We are almost done setting up our new office. The desks are in place (including the cabinet doors, which we had to hunt down). Kristin’s new desktop is here and being loaded as I write this post. We are still picking out some more lighting, storage, etc to make the room a perfect office. I am even eyeballing one of those portable AC units to keep the temperature a little more comfortable. Pictures soon!

Update:http://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

At work, we are on the edge of having resolved a lot of our Portal issues. In addition to performance and reliability improvements, there will be other subtle enhancements that I am anxious to look into further. These include a Facebook channel, mobile Targeted Announcements, a rich text editor, a better Email SSO experience, and resolution to some terrible technical problems that are unfixable right now. Who knows if these updates are of substance, or are just marketing bullets on a sales pitch. We are fully operational in our testing environment, so the switch should be happening within the next week, assuming testing goes well.

In other news, our garage sale has made us almost $300 so far, and the space we got back in our quaint house is quite impressive.

Windows 7 RC here I come…

Hardware, Open-source, Software, Thoughts

Google Android: Explosive Potential

Android LogoThe most overused phrase on the Internet right now is “iPhone-killer”. I think that iPhone doesn’t have any serious contenders right now, but I do see one on the horizon.

Enter Google’s Android platform. What is it? From Google’s website: “Android delivers a complete set of software for mobile devices: an operating system, middleware and key mobile applications.” The T-Mobile exclusive G1phone is a great show of this platform’s potential. A phone or notebook manufacturer can use Android and tie into any of the features the platform provides.

Its a bit early in the game for Android though, and a lot of the growth that I expected to see at launch didn’t happen. I am starting to get excited again, thanks to some articles from the last few weeks.

T-Mobile recently announced that they have sold 1 million G1 phones in just 6 months after its release in October 2008.  For comparison, Android holds 6% of the smartphone market, with Windows Mobile holding 11%, Blackberry holding 22%, and iPhone holding 50%. Since the G1 is the only Android phone available right at the time of writing, and the G1 is a T-Mobile exclusive, its potential is limited by the size of T-Moble’s customer base.

Several things need to happen to make the growth of this platform explode. First, Android needs to be available to customers on regardless of carrier. Second, more Android devices need to enter the market. For comparison again, Out of the platforms listed above, Microsoft is the only other vendor that is both carrier-agnostic, and device-agnostic.

So, who else is coming to the Android platform? Samsung has announced 3 new Android phones this year, HTC a second. Motorola recently annouced that it is moving to Android Dell, HP and ASUS are reportedly working on Android-based netbooks. Acer announced an Android netbook, as well as others. If these vendors start shipping Android devices, then my second speculated requirement will be filled too, with Verizon, AT&T customers being able to purchase Android devices.

Now for that last pesky detail – everyone is developing for iPhone right? I am happy to say that the Android Market is alive and healthy. Many new apps come in every day, and a lot of the apps available on iPhone have versions availabe on the G1 from the same developer. So in a way, the success of the App Store on iPhone will contribute to the success of the Android Market. As the Android install base grows in size, so will its developer base.

For now, it is a waiting game. I think I will look into the SDK for Android and find out just how hard it would be to make some apps. If I can get a cool idea, and a polished product for a .99 cent price tag then maybe I could make some mad money!

Computers, Events, Hardware, Linux, Personal, Software, Windows

Back from Catastrophe

What a horrid last few days. Around lunch yesterday I restarted my Windows box at work, and I was greeted with unpleasantness. At the login screen, I got an error informing me that some instruction in memory has performed an illegal operation. After clicking on that, I got the infamous “NT Authority” says you have 60 more seconds with Windows error.

On rebooting the machine, I was notified that “C:WindowsSystem32hal.dll” is missing. I called shins, but sure enough, my entire Windows directory appeared to be empty. On closer inspection, Ubuntu informed me that it wasn’t empty, but instead, it was receiving an Input/Output error when trying to “ls” the contents. I ran a “chkdsk /r” wholly expecting that NTFS has fucked it all up again, and I seem to have been correct – at least in part.

After the chkdsk, I advanced two seconds further than my last attempt to boot Windows, only to be greeted with some cryptic error informing me that my registry looks about like that train over there. Repairing was not an option, so after much fingernail biting, and a few choice words, I decided that my only remaining option was a reinstallation.

Let me take a moment here to talk about the Windows reload process. My problem isn’t that I think its crappy and that I think someone should do something about it. I actually know that its crappy compared to any other Operating System’s standards. I can’t tell you how many damn “Next” buttons I had to click. And then how many preferences I had to change. This would have been much easier if I could have used something like Synaptic to check all the programs I wanted to install in one swoop. Additionally, on a *NIX platform, all of my application preferences would have been saved under my home folder. Windows is a tard in that department so it took me about five hours to get it back to usable.

After that got resolved I fired up my Virtual Machine containing my webserver (cheap hosting solution I know) and found that the MySQL database wouldn’t start. It ended up that the filesystem on my Linux box was corrupted as well. I ran “fsck” and fixed a dozen or so errors, rebooted, and realized that one of the files that was corrupted happened to be the MySQL user’s table. Long story short, I learned alot about troubleshooting MySQL, and got everything restored without losing any data.

Now I am finding other files all over the place that are 0 bytes in size. I have backups, but since the original file still exists when the backup is made, the backup is successfully overwritten with the new (0 kb) file.

John (and I partly) suspect VMWare may be the culprit. This is an incomplete theory however, and the entire process has left me visibly shaken. We run financial systems on these things. We run nuclear power plants with these things. My net worth is just a number sitting on some hard drive in a basement Wachovia owns somewhere. What happens when that dissappears?

Computers, Hardware, Linux, Open-source, Software, Web, Windows

Its Almost Here

Laptopmag.com has just reviewed a pre-production unit of the Dell Inspiron Mini 9. It seems pretty impressive, with the following specs:

  • $349 base pricetag
  • 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor
  • Tailored version of Ubuntu (or Windows XP)
  • 9.1 x 6.8 x 1.3 inches
  • 2.3 lbs
  • 8.9 inch 1024 x 600-pixel resolution
  • 1.3-megapixel webcam
  • 3 USB 2.0 slots, , VGA out, Ethernet, headphone and a microphone jacks, 4-in-1 memory card reader
  • Bluetooth and wireless G (with Mobile broadband)
  • 4GB solid state drive (also available with a larger 8GB and 16GB SSD)
  • 3 1/2 hour battery

Looks pretty tasty…

Computers, Hardware, Linux, Open-source, Software, Windows

Get in the Zone

Solaris offers something that actually impressed me this week. The concept of a “zone” (or “container” they are having a branding issue) is a twist on the traditional virtual machine analogy. Lets take everyones favorite operating system Windows as an example to illustrate the differences between a “virtual machine” and a “zone”.

In a traditional virtual machine, the entire environment is replicated. So for Windows, this would be “C:” partition.  This would include the “Program Files”, and “Windows” directories, etc. Because everything is self contained, it is a fully functional copy of a Windows installation.  However, what if you have 5 virtual machines, or 500? Well, then you are looking at significant waste (beyond the fact that my example uses Windows). For the most part, the “Windows” directory isn’t going to change too much. Its just the core operating system files needed for operations. Its not really customized for each installation. So if its the same, why replicate it?

Solaris zones tackle just that – the “Windows” directory would be hosted and shared from the root zone. Basically, the container is just the user’s files (with a few exceptions). Whats more is applying updates propogate into the Solaris Zones (which can be good or bad) so all of the systems are up to date with minimal patching effort.

Of course, this example could never work with the Windows operating system because of technical, and political limitations, but for real operating systems, this is a cool concept – especially in the server arena. I read somewhere that the impact of running a Solaris zone is less than 1% of your system resources. The maximum number of zones per host is theoretically somewhere around 8,000 – actually results will be dependent on avaialble processing power, memory, and hard drive storage space.

So kudos Sun, for finally getting something right. Now lets talk about shipping Solaris with “dpkg” instead of “pkg-get”…