Macs are easy to use, so long as you don’t install non-Apple hardware on them – The Tech Curmudgeon

Abandon all hope, ye who try to install third party hardware on a MacBook Air.

MacBook Air (Image Credit: Apple)

MacBook Air (Image Credit: Apple)

A couple of weeks back the Curmudgeon’s had another Windows 10 failure in their house. In this case, it was the cheap, $200 HP Chromebook-style Windows machine with a poor-man’s solid state drive that largely crapped out. But that was Mrs. Curmudgeon’s work PC, and it died in part because the Tech Curmudgeon misjudged how much memory she would actually need and should have bought a step up instead. So now it’s a second Chromebook-like machine for doing homework, and Mrs. Curmudgeon has a brand new MacBook Air.

Mrs. Curmudgeon loves it, and it meets all her needs so far. But Curmudgeon child #2 wanted to be able to control their computer-controlled robot with the MacBook Air, and that robot needed an Ethernet connection. The MacBook Air does not have an Ethernet port. What it does have is a USB port into which you may plug, if you are so inclined, an Ethernet-to-USB adapter, along with whatever software you need to run it.

This is where the Curmudgeonly saga truly begins. Because the only Ethernet-to-USB adapter that could be found at Best Buy on Black Friday was not, actually, a piece of Apple-branded hardware. And so the Tech Curmudgeon spent several hours downloading the latest drivers from the adaptor manufacturer’s website, noticing that the drivers were only compatible up to MacOS 10.10, figuring out where on a damn Mac the OS is described, discovering that the MacBook Air was at 10.12, researching if updated drivers were available, reinstalling the driver after the Tech Curmudgeon realized he’d accidentally installed the driver for 10.6 and that it definitely wasn’t going to work, downloading a fresh copy of the drivers just in case, and finally throwing his hands up in frustration. Continue reading

Beware the Windows 10 zombie screen – The Tech Curmudgeon

Be careful when you get the Windows 10 “black screen of undeath,” because your PC might not be dead yet.

bsod-cursorThe Tech Curmudgeon is old enough to remember the bad old days of Windows 3.1, Windows 98, and the infamous “blue screen of death.” The Tech Curmudgeon and everyone he knows lost hours of effort to crashes that ate our work, lost grades to crashes that ate our work, maybe even lost jobs to crashes that ate our work, all the while cursing Bill Gates and Micro$oft. The Tech Curmudgeon learned to set every program to autosave every five or ten minutes, how to find and import the backups, and how to invent new profanity when the blue screen of death inevitably murdered the files on the few programs that wouldn’t autosave and ate the backups too.

Raise your hand if you ever fantasized about taking a sledgehammer, napalm, or tactical nuke to your PC as a result of a blue screen of death… and if your hand is down, you’re lying.

Yet Windows 10, an OS that the Tech Curmudgeon generally likes, has upped the “piss him the fuck off” factor of Windows even higher than the blue screen of death with what the Tech Curmudgeon calls their “zombie screen.” You know, the black screen you get when Windows 10 is updating (without asking you for permission first, of course) and all you can see – sometimes – is the mouse pointer. Continue reading

#Hashmytags #youselfimportantpricks – The Tech Curmudgeon

There was a time when stringing all your words together made you look ignorant, stupid, or insane. Now it makes you look #tech #savvy.

#SocialMediaWhen the Tech Curmudgeon was young, there was a period where people supposedly “in the know” were claiming that, in German, you could make any word you wanted just by stringing other words together in an endless line of barely pronounceable syllables. Reality was somewhat different, in that yes, you could kinda-sorta-maybe do that every once in a while under special circumstances and if you didn’t know what the hell you were doing and didn’t mind fucking around with someone else’s language as a joke. Basically, yes, it was possible, but it made you sound like an ignorant prick, not a fluent speaker of German – fluent speakers of German didn’t need to fuck around like this to make themselves understood.

These days, however, stringing an endless line of barely pronounceable syllables doesn’t just make you sound like an ignorant prick, it also makes you sound tech and comm savvy. After all, that’s essentially what hashtags are. Continue reading

New Facebook app update demands unreasonable privacy access – The Tech Curmudgeon

The Borg meet the One App in the Facebook app’s latest privacy permissions.

Internet and Social MediaThe Tech Curmudgeon has got a Facebook app on his smartphone, probably like nearly everyone else in the English-speaking world. But the Tech Curmudgeon hasn’t updated it to the latest app, and he won’t. In fact, when his current version of the Facebook app stops working, the Tech Curmudgeon will purge the app from his phone entirely rather than update to the next version. And when his phone finally dies and the Tech Curmudgeon has to get a new one, he’ll probably purge the Facebook app from that one too, all because Facebook’s recent update has asked for permissions no one in their right mind would give Facebook. Continue reading


The Tech Curmudgeon – Google’s CEO Schmidt clueless

Google CEO Eric Schmidt (center) and other Google VIPs wearing Google Glass (image credit: KPCB)

So Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt thinks that government regulation is required to protect privacy from a rising tide of civilian drones. The Tech Curmudgeon agrees, at least in principle, because civilian drones and things like passenger aircraft should be kept well separated.

Yet this is the man apparently doesn’t see a problem with Google Glass, a system that turns every user into a mobile audio and video surveillance system, with all that data conveniently stored in Google’s server farms.

If you’re a Google investor, dump your shares now. With a CEO who’s too stupid – or who thinks that everyone else is too stupid – to understand how these two claims are hypocritical, Google’s future looks bleak.

The Tech Curmudgeon – thoroughly unimpressed by the Jeep Grand Cherokee

2013 Grand Cherokee

To paraphrase Canadian comedy group Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, “the Jeep Grand Cherokee blows (it blows and blows) and sucks, at the same time!”

Mrs. Curmudgeon had the opportunity to be driving a rental 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee for a few weeks recently, and the Tech Curmudgeon had the opportunity to drive it a few times. The Tech Curmudgeon was was thoroughly unimpressed with the experience. Supposedly the Grand Cherokee is a sport utility vehicle. So the Tech Curmudgeon has to ask – why isn’t it sporty and why does it lack utility?

The “sport” in SUV can mean a couple of different things – sporty like it has good performance, or useful for sporty activities like hauling bicycles, climbing gear. The Grand Cherokee fails on both accounts. Most American-made cars have torque and horsepower to spare – it’s historically been the Japanese cars and trucks that could barely get out of their own way. But it took the Tech Curmudgeon literally pushing the accelerator to the floor before the Grand Cherokee would match the acceleration of either Ms. Curmudgeon’s minivan or the Tech Curmudgeon’s own 9-year old, 100k mile plus, 4-cylinder station wagon.

As for the “useful for sporty endeavors” metric, the Curmudgeons bought one of the little Curmudgeons a new bicycle recently and took the Grand Cherokee to pick it up. The Curmudgeons had to put the back seats down before the bicycle would fit into the cargo area. The Tech Curmudgeon supposes that he could have removed the front wheel and made it fit, but he shouldn’t have needed to – the Grand Cherokee is supposed to be a sport utility vehicle, after all. The Tech Curmudgeon is just glad that the little Curmudgeons weren’t also along for the ride – someone would have had to walk home.

Yes, the Grand Cherokee has four-wheel drive, but so what? It’s not useful for going off-roading if the cargo area is too small for four passengers and all their stuff. If you can’t load a couple of bikes into the back while still carrying 4 passengers, or sit on the tail and put on ski boots without your feet dangling, then why bother with an SUV in the first place? And what good is the ability to tow 7400 pounds (according to the Jeep website) if you can’t pull it uphill at more than 5 MPH? The Tech Curmudgeon exaggerates, but not as much as you might think.

Beyond the lack of actual sportiness, the Grand Cherokee’s so-called “features” limit its utility too. Even with a V6 it gets terrible gas mileage – Mrs. Curmudgeon didn’t get more than about 18 MPG the entire time she was driving it, even on the highway. The website advertises 23 MPG. Of course, the Tech Curmudgeon understands that the EPA’s mileage tests are a complete joke, but even so – that’s a reduction of over 20%. And at $3.50 per gallon, that’s a lot of extra money going to feed a gas hungry V6 that also has crappy acceleration.

The Tech Curmudgeon is obviously a tech-head, but he found the keyless entry to be almost worse than useless. It was counter-intuitive even when following the instructions displayed on the poorly organized display smack center in the middle of the instrument panel. The Tech Curmudgeon found that it was even easier to lose track of the “key” fob than it is to lose a normal key. And there’s nothing quite like having the key walk away with Mrs. Curmudgeon and have the Grand Cherokee beep angrily at the Tech Curmudgeon while he sits there wondering whether the vehicle is about to shut down unexpectedly.

As mentioned above, the cargo area in the Grand Cherokee is too small for any sport that actually requires equipment or gear (don’t even think about trying to car camp without a roof rack or an anchor a trailer for all the stuff). But if you actually want to try to load something massive like a child’s bicycle in the cargo area, you’ll have to figure out how to fold down the seats first. Putting them down was not intuitive, and they risked crushing anything left on floor behind the front seats (like a cake, a Kleenex box, or the Tech Curmudgeon’s foot).

And for those times Mrs. Curmudgeon had to use the Grand Cherokee to go shopping for groceries, the cargo area was so poorly designed that the groceries went skidding around those lovely carpet protecting chrome runners. Yes, there are a few hooks on each side, but they’re so small that you can’t hook more than one plastic bag in each, and even then they’re so close to the floor of the cargo area that food just pops out of the bags anyway. And forget about using your own reusable bags – the handles wouldn’t even fit in the hooks.

So out of the three characteristics of an SUV, the Grand Cherokee has exactly one – there’s no denying that it is a vehicle. But then again, so was the Pinto.

The Grand Cherokee has two things going for it – it’s got high ground clearance, and it’s pretty. And the Tech Curmudgeon supposes that at Grand Cherokee would be fine for someone living in a snowy or hilly area who wants a comfortable commuting vehicle. Of course, a higher-end Subaru would work just as well for that, except with a larger (and more utilitarian) cargo area and much better gas mileage. Heck, if you really want the ground clearance of the Grand Cherokee, buy an Outback and jack it up instead. Sure, it’ll look a little funny, but it’ll be as much an SUV as the Grand Cherokee is.

As for the pretty parts like the soft interior panels, a hand-stitched leather steering wheel, independent climate zones, and Bluetooth built-in, you can’t make a Grand Cherokee that starts at about $26k a luxury vehicle. It just ain’t happening, and the Grand Cherokee would be a better vehicle if it tried less to be a Lexus (and failed) and tried more to emulate the authentic utility of the Wrangler.

TTC can hear it now – “It’s a Jeep thing – you wouldn’t understand.” Any Jeep lover who says this is absolutely correct, because TTC doesn’t understand why anyone would want to own an underpowered, gas guzzling wanna-be luxury SUV with annoying “features” and a cargo area that is small and poorly designed.

The Tech Curmudgeon – Wunderlist jumps the shark

Jump the shark

Jump the shark

Smartphones are great organizational tools, what with their calendars, note taking apps, and the ability to download to-do list apps like Astrid, Remember the Milk, Wunderlist, and dozens of others. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages, and since different people want different GUIs and features, that’s all fine. Apparently, though, one of the disadvantages with Wunderlist, the to-do list app that the Tech Curmudgeon used to use, is that they like to do major software updates three days before Christmas.

Who in their right mind does a major software update on an organizational app three days before Christmas? Even if there are no problems with the update and everything goes perfectly, the update process alone could result in cranky users. Just imagine for a moment that you’re using Wunderlist to, oh, the Tech Curmudgeon doesn’t know, keep track of your Christmas shopping. How much would you like discovering that you have to update your app when you’re standing in line trying to check off the items you’re about to pay for? The Tech Curmudgeon knows he’d be a tad… annoyed.

Wunderlist’s update process didn’t actually update as such, it added. As in when the Tech Curmudgeon downloaded the new Wunderlist app, it didn’t replace the old one and automatically import all his settings like any properly designed app will do, it simply installed the new version of the app alongside the old one. Oh, and the icons were nearly identical, making figuring out which version was the correct version a guessing game the first times the Tech Curmudgeon used it.

Then the Tech Curmudgeon discovered that the new app had crashed Wunderlist’s server, so he couldn’t sync his to-do list with his wife’s. And when the servers came back a day or two later (yes, that would be Christmas Eve – the Tech Curmudgeon lost track of when they actually came back, since by then he’d largely abandoned the useless app in favor of pencil and paper), there was an undocumented feature bug that prevented the app on one smartphone (an iPhone) from syncing with the app on another smartphone (a Samsung Android phone). So much for the Tech Curmudgeon’s wife being able to check things off on one phone and having them show up as complete on his.

The Wunderlist desktop apps were just as screwed up as the smartphone apps, since they didn’t sync correctly either. Oh, and the Tech Curmudgeon had to download and install a second app instead of simply running an update for the original. Oh, and let us not forget that there wasn’t even an iPad app at all when Wunderlist released the so-called “update.”

And the problems didn’t end there. The original Wunderlist hid your completed items so that they didn’t clutter up your entire screen with useless junk. But the new-and-improved Wunderlist GUI made them all visible but faded. And if you happened to like the original GUI as the Tech Curmudgeon did, you were probably delighted to discover that there wasn’t even an option to hide the completed items anymore. The Tech Curmudgeon personally adores visually distracting GUIs – don’t you?

And while it never mattered in the original Wunderlist, if you wanted to clear away all that screen clutter, you had to delete each task. One. At. A. Time. No bulk delete option. No ability to select multiple tasks and delete all selected. Nada. If you’re like the Tech Curmudgeon, and you used Wunderlist for your grocery list, then you probably had hundreds of entries under the Grocery folder that you would have to delete. One. At. A. Time.

You know, if Wunderlist was made in a part of the world where Christmas isn’t widely celebrated, the Tech Curmudgeon could probably forgive the abysmally poor timing of the update. But Wunderlist is produced by a company in Germany, and last the Tech Curmudgeon heard they celebrate Christmas there too.

What the Tech Curmudgeon can’t forgive, however, is the combination of rock-stupid timing, releasing an update before all the platforms were ready, forcing him to install an entirely new app and uninstall the old one, failing to anticipate the server load, busting the sync for several days, and turning a clean GUI into pure screen clutter without even providing an option to revert to the old interface.

Sure, the app’s free, but so are most of Wunderlist’s major competitors like Remember The Milk and Astrid. And even if Wunderlist had paid upgrades like its competitors do, after this debacle the Tech Curmudgeon wouldn’t trust Wunderlist’s makers with someone else’s money, never mind his own. The sheer lack of customer awareness – no, make that basic consciousness – exhibited by Wunderlist’s makers demonstrates that any paid upgrades would certainly be a waste of money.

Bye bye, Wunderlist. And by all means let the door launch you onto the sidewalk on the way out.

The Tech Curmudgeon – iMacs “Assembled in USA? Don’t make me ROTFLMAO….

iFixit iMac teardown

iFixit iMac teardown

The Tech Curmudgeon read today that some Apple iMacs have been showing up in the States with the words “Assembled in USA” etched into the aluminum on the back. According to the NBC-LA blog press:here, this implies that Apple may have started to do “some real work… somewhere in the United States.” And Apple Insider, the site that appears to have broken this non-story, writes that the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “substantial transformation” critera means that the iMacs had to be getting more than merely screwed together from 100% imported parts.

When the Tech Curmudgeon read this at lunch today he nearly spewed Red Bull all over his screen he was laughing so hard. Clearly neither the NBC-LA blogger nor the Apple Insider writer had ever built commodity electronics. The Tech Curmudgeon has, and let him tell you what Apple’s claim means: it means that Apple’s marketeering department got hold of the laser engraver, and nothing more.

In theory, “Assembled in USA” means just what Apple Insider says it means, namely that the new Apple was “substantially transformed” as its imported parts were turned into a finished computer. But theory represents reality a lot more often in theory than it does in reality.

The FTC writes that Customs defines “substantially transformed” as

a manufacturing process that results in a new and different product with a new name, character, and use that is different from that which existed before the change.

Customs is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and the FTC doesn’t really get to say what does and doesn’t qualify as “substantially transformed.” Sure, the FTC writes that merely screwing together foreign computer parts isn’t “substantially transformed,” but if Customs says it is, the FTC is stuck with what Customs says, not the other way around.

Long, long ago in a city far, far away, the Tech Curmudgeon actually built commodity electronics that were marked as “Assembled in the USA.” And even though all the components except for the aluminum box were imported from Mexico and Hong Kong, it was still right and proper to say that the electronics had been assembled in the USA for one simple reason: loopholes. Specifically, loopholes the size of Mack trucks.

First, products made in Mexico at the time were defined as having been made in the USA because of NAFTA. Free trade required that products made in Mexico and Canada be treated identically to those made in the USA, and so Mexico-manufactured components were still marked “Made in USA.” Last the Tech Curmudgeon checked, Nogales and Cuidad Juarez weren’t part of the USA.

Second, assembling the foreign-made components takes more than a screwdriver. Why, it took the Tech Curmudgeon’s former employer a pair of pliers, some Loctite, the insertion of several computer boards that were mated together using idiot-proof, self-guiding electrical connectors, a torque wrench, and a screwdriver. And what really put it over the top was that the completed product was (gasp!) tested in a US factory. Clearly it was assembled right here in the United States of America, right?

The Tech Curmudgeon’s former employer sold commodity electronics products that were 90% foreign manufactured material and that took maybe 15 minutes to assemble and another 5 minutes to test, yet they were legally permitted to say that the products were “assembled in the USA.” So you’ll excuse the Tech Curmudgeon if he doesn’t buy into Apple’s marketeering.

The Tech Curmudgeon looked at the iFixit teardown of the iMac that started all this laughable speculation, and he noticed a few things. For example, the fan was made in China. So was the LCD display. And the power supply. The AirPort module – made in Korea. The hard drive – made in Japan. The only parts that don’t say that they are foreign made are the main electronics board and the attractive brushed aluminum case.

The way the Tech Curmudgeon figures it, the best case is that the main electronics board was assembled in the USA and bolted into a USA-manufactured aluminum case along with all the other foreign-made electronics. But that’s best case. More likely, however, is that the main electronics board is actually made outside the USA just like everything else is. While the Tech Curmudgeon don’t have any proof of this, he’d guess that the board is made in Mexico or some other free-trade partner, shipped into the US using a NAFTA-like loophole, and then the entire iMac put together from 90%+ foreign-made components.

Who cares, right? It’s an Apple and so the iMac is clearly God’s Jobs’ gift to consumers, and Apple buyers are above all that country of origin nonsense. Bullshit – American consumers care a lot about “Made in the USA.” “Made in the USA” was a major enough slogan back in the 1990s that foreign car makers moved entire assembly lines to the US just to be able to bypass that nativist sentiment (that there were tax benefits too merely sweetened the pot). Nativism and isolationism is again on the rise in the US, and so Apple’s marketeering people are trying to gain a competitive edge for their products against their competitors like HTC (China), Samsung (South Korea), Nokia (Finland), and Sony (Japan). And Apple is probably trying to claim that mythical moral high ground defined by “Assembled in the USA” from Google and it’s subsidiary, Motorola, before they claim it for themselves.

“Assembled in USA” is nothing more than a calculated, cynical marketeering ploy by a company that has turned cynicism into high art. If you believe for a moment that Apple’s products are really “Assembled in the USA,” the Tech Curmudgeon has a nice telecom startup that is expected to hit profitability any day now to sell you at a nice low price.

The Tech Curmudgeon – Eau de garbage bag

The Tech Curmudgeon was raking leaves recently when he noticed an odd smell. A flowery, almost sweet odor was wafting from the bag of leaves he’d recently filled. While some of the leaves were wet and had started to decay, it wasn’t the leaves themselves that had the overpowering stench of perfume. It was the trash bag.

Who the hell at Glad thought it was a good idea to perfume a 39 gallon black lawn and leaf bag?

The Tech Curmudgeon understands the idea of fighting odors coming from kitchen bags filled with food. He disagrees – vehemently – but he can at least understand not wanting the stench of rotting food in your house. Of course, there’s an easier solution to this problem that doesn’t require overwhelming the smell of decay with perfumes and coating the insides of you sinuses with Febreeze – get off your lazy ass and take the trash out before it starts stinking up the kitchen. But the Tech Curmudgeon digresses.

The stench excuse doesn’t apply when it comes to lawn and leaf cleanup. The Tech Curmudgeon seriously doubts anyone (sane) collects trash bags full of leaf litter or grass clippings and brings it into the house long enough for it to decay and stink up the house. As a homeowner, the Tech Curmudgeon knows just how nasty fermenting lawn clippings can get, especially after a rain adds some extra water to the mix, but that’s why he leaves them on the side of the house next to the massive covered trash can. If that smell is creeping into your house and your windows are closed, look for air leaks around the doors and windows and seal them with weather stripping or foam insulation – your sense of smell and your energy bill will both thank you.

Maybe Glad’s lawn and leaf bags are made on the same equipment that makes their “Odor Shield” kitchen bags. Maybe the perfume is just built into the polymers that make up the ForceFlex bags, regardless of whether its the white kitchen bags or the black outdoor bags.

The Tech Curmudgeon doesn’t care – it’s unnecessary and a stupid waste of money to perfume an outdoor garbage bag.

Image credit: Glad Products

The Tech Curmudgeon – hell no, you don't get my Facebook password, Mr. Interviewer

Image credit: Scientific American

In one of the Tech Curmudgeon’s favorite movies, Winston Zeddmore (played by Ernie Hudson) told Ray Stantz (played by Dan Aykroyd) “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say ‘YES!'” In that same spirit, if a prospective employer asks for your Facebook password, you say “NO!” Actually, the Tech Curmudgeon initially thought that “fuck off!” was a better response, but you may not want to get a reputation for having an attitude problem.

Then again, having an attitude about refusing to bare your private life to an employer who has no legitimate interest in said private life isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s why it’s called “your private life,” after all.

The Tech Curmudgeon also feels that any company who demands access to your private information via social networking sites as a condition of employment is a company that desperately needs to go out of business yesterday, if not sooner. Continue reading

The Tech Curmudgeon – Steve Jobsophilia

What the hell is up with all the Jobsophilia since Steve Jobs died? The Tech Curmudgeon has noticed that there’s a hell of a lot of supposedly smart people reporting and blogging on “technology” claiming that Steve Jobs was the most visionary tech guy in the last 30 or 40 years. Or they’re fellating Jobs’ reputation and going so far as to claim that the man changed the world more than anyone else in the history of technology. The Tech Curmudgeon wants some of what they’re smoking, because it’s clearly better than mescaline and LSD.

So lets look at some of Jobs’ contemporaries who are more important than he was to things that, you know, actually matter to the real world. Continue reading

The Tech Curmudgeon – "Technology" means more than gadgets, people

The Tech Curmudgeon looked up the word “technology” in his dead tree American Heritage Dictionary, and just in case he was dating himself, he looked up the word in an online dictionary too. Both dictionaries generally agree with each other that the word “technology” means the application of science or knowledge to achieve a practical objective. That’s a pretty broad definition that takes in anything from stereo systems to car engines to air- and spacecraft to oil extraction equipment. So the Tech Curmudgeon wants to know when was it that “technology” came to mean just personal gadgets, social media, and smartphone apps? Continue reading

The Tech Curmudgeon – software patents and Samsung vs. Apple

The Tech Curmudgeon read last week that Samsung was challenging Apple’s iPad patents, demanding that Apple prove its patents were valid. About damn time. Whatever lawyer it was in the patent office who granted the first software patent needs to be run out of town on a rail. And the lawyer who granted the first “design appearance” patent needs to be tarred and feathered and then run out of town on a rail.

Software patents are one of the most egregious misuses of patent protection that exist. There was a time when the patent office would reject patents for 3rd Grade math or simple sorting algorithms, but no longer. For the last couple of decades, anyone could code an obvious calculation method for a spreadsheet program and then patent that code. With that patent in hand, you could not only sell a crappy spreadsheet program, but you could also sue all the other spreadsheet program developers who used your patented code for a simple, obvious calculation. Yay, more litigation! Continue reading