Category: computers

Microsoft Surface RT

It arrived, today. My new Microsoft Surface RT was brought to my door by the UPS delivery man. So far, it is one of the best toys I have ever bought.


picture of Surface RT
Microsoft’s Surface RT Tablet Computer

As I am starting a new college career this week, I was interested in how far I would have to walk from my parking place to the classroom building. When I registered the only parking left was in what is called the Central Parking Garage. Now, as you may have guessed, the Central Parking Garage location is anything but central to anything on the campus.  Noooo!  The damned thing is diagonal across the campus from my classroom building, a good half-mile. It is all downhill, but the catch is that it is all uphill to get back to my car.

Well, all this leads up to my decision to acquire a tablet computer because it would weigh considerably less than my 15 inch screen laptop. After evaluating about a dozen different tablet computers, I decided on the Microsoft Surface RT. It weighs about 1 ½ pounds, and does pretty much anything I would want to do for my math classes. You see, there are computers in every classroom at every desk position. So, I could legitimately get by without a personal computer.

Now that I have my new toy, it is time to evaluate.

The package I bought included the touch and type cover. I was afraid this would be a  problem for me since I am not a true touch typist. However, I find the touch keyboard to be adequate. It is at least as easy to use as a regular keyboard. I just have to remember to get my hand and arm spacing comfortable.

The Surface RT is a thing of beauty. The packaging is nice, of course, but so is the actual product. It has the look and feel of an expensive piece of electronics. The price for the package was $349, plus another $100 for the cover/keyboard. If you check the price of comparable tablets, the Surface RT offers a greater value.

Microsoft thought enough ahead to install a full USB 2.0 port, a MicroSHDX memory chip port, plus a port for video output. You have to buy a special cable for the video output, but you can get one to patch the HD video out to your big screen via HDMI interface. The battery is supposed to last about nine hours, but since I have the unit on charge, now, we will just have to see.

Understand that I came to my decision to buy the Microsoft Surface, even though we already own an Apple iPad, and a Kindle Fire.

I have never been impressed with the performance of the Apple iPad. It is a nice machine, but does not have a convenient port for accessories, nor does the Bluetooth keyboard I bought for it measure up. Now, there are after-market keyboards available from third party suppliers, but I have already spent my money on a virtually useless accessory made by Apple.  

The Kindle Fire is first and foremost a great reader. You can surf the web, but the seven inch sceen is not satisfactory.

Now that I have the Microsoft Surface RT, I am a happy camper.

As time goes by, I will blog more about the machine, being honest about the worth of Microsoft’s entry in to the tablet market. I don’t understand why more of this great product are not being sold, especially at the current price. Oh, I forgot to tell you that students are currently getting a ten percent discount from Microsoft online at the Microsoft store.

We Take Time-Out From This Election To Talk About – Windows 8

Picture of the Windows 8 starter screen
Windows 8 Starter Screen

Sometimes you just have to try something new. Something new is always appealing, even though you know it is dangerous, and in the computer world, that means that you could lose your work, your data, and your living. New computer operating systems can be dangerous.

I have been using my new Microsoft email address. My Yahoo address is inundated with at least one hundred and sometimes three hundred emails per day, and I view my email as a reasonable alternative. In my mail box yesterday was a Microsoft offer to sell me the new Windows 8 upgrade to my Windows 7 system for only $39.99. This price was for download, only.  For $50, they would send the system DVD.

Forty bucks for a new operating system is a terrific deal. So, if I bought it, upon what computer would it be installed?

First of all, I didn’t want to upgrade my desktop. There is too much stuff to lose, and I had not done a full system backup in a long time. Secondly, I didn’t want to upgrade mynew Dell laptop for the same reason.

I didn’t need a new operating system for my three and one-half year old Toshiba Satellite laptop. I naturally decided to upgrade the Toshiba. All I use it for is to surf the net while my wife watches chick shows on TV. If something terrible happens to the Toshiba, it will make little difference.

The Windows 8 system is a two gigabyte file and it takes over a half hour to download. After the download, you have the option to install the system on your computer, load the system on a USB flash drive, or burn it on a DVD as an ISO file to be installed later. I chose the ISO file. Because of that, I have a DVD backup of the system.

The actual installation takes a lot of time, more than an hour. Prepare yourself with a cup of something hot, or a glass of something cold.

Windows 8 :

After the system installation, when it finally came time for the computer to boot, I was pleasantly surprised. Although I had seen pictures of the system, it looked even better in real life.

Instead of icons and menus, Microsoft Windows 8 is designed to be used with touch screens. In Windows 8 Microsoft uses tiles to represent applications instead of icons on a desktop. The tiles are little rectangles on the screen representing different applications, programs, and browsers.

As a matter of fact, with the Starter screen, you are not looking at your “desktop”. The desktop has its own tile so you can get to the stuff you had on your old desktop.

When you launch an application like Microsoft Word, the system automatically launches the desktop, and that’s where the program runs.

While working in one application, you may want to switch to something else, like a browser to look up the meaning of a word. That’s where you can get lost. Getting to a menu-like navigation system is really simple. Just move the mouse into one of the right corners of the screen and you can get back to the start screen to run that other application. The same thing is true about the lower left corner of the screen; it gets you the starter screen.

If you have other applications running, the top left of the screen will get you a chance to choose one of those. Don’t forget shortcut macros. By pressing ALT-TAB, you can whiz through all your applications faster than you can change windows on any other system.

The only problem with Windows 8 is that it is totally different from what you are used to using. Windows 8 is pointed to the coming flood of touch-screen computers, including several tablet and convertible computers. Touch-screens are the thing of the future. Just picture a world without mouse-related carpal tunnel. Fantastic!

Microsoft designed Windows 8 to be used with the standard input/output devices, too. The keyboard is still irreplaceable as a work device. There are some really good voice recognition systems around, but most people ignore them. As a matter of fact, within Windows 7 and Windows 8 is a very good voice recognition system. I could have written this article using that method. That’s one of the ways people in the future will write their blogs and books.

If you are ready for an adventure, you can give Windows 8 a try. I think you will wind up liking it. Just remember that it is really different, but not difficult. Don’t install it until you have a thorough system backup of your old operating system.

Weather Bureau Models – Not Very Good

Tropical Storm Isaac started out in the Atlantic Ocean, and crossed over into the Caribbean Sea. The NOAA models projected that Florida was in the path. With the Republican National Convention scheduled to run at the same time as the soon to be hurricane, the news media was awash with speculation on what would happen.

Of course, by the time that Isaac pulverized Haiti and Cuba, running over the Florida Keys, the models were forecasting that the path might be a little west of the original guesses.

After another day, the models were moving the probable path even further west. Over the weekend, the forecasted path had moved from the coast of Florida, to Alabama, to Mississippi, to Louisiana. Now, that grand old town, New Orleans, is being named to a rematch with mother nature as Isaac is supposed to hit there.

So, what is going on?

The government’s hurricane models are virtually worthless. A given hurricane path forecast is almost always wrong, and they have to correct their forecasts after the storm has gone in another direction. You can do almost as well by testing the direction of the wind with a wet finger.

There are a few things you need to know about models. This includes weather forecasting models, hurricane models, and climate models. There is a little understood fact in that they are all MODELS, and not actual, accurate representations of the systems they seek to study.

All models are built upon what we think we know, what we can measure, and a lot of assumptions about those things of which we don’t have a good understanding. For decades climatologists have thought that carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is a primary driver of climate. As things turn out, carbon dioxide levels have increased dramatically in the last dozen or so years, and the world’s average temperature has changed little, if any at all.

This is one reason why none of those eighteen or twenty climate model used around the world have never made a correct forecast. The government’s weather and hurricane models suffer from similar problems. It is currently impossible to accurately represent the weather system mathematically.

When you wonder why those guys never get it right, remember that they, too, need their jobs. A government climate or weather modeler has job security, and they don’t even have to be right.

What a country!

New Dell Laptop

My Toshiba laptop computer of three years has developed a flaky display. When the display  goes out, you lose your work if you are using a web-based service. Incidentally, I use the built-in editor in WordPress to write my blogs, and when the display would go out, it would dump the browser and all my work.


Now that we are approaching go-back-to-school time, sales abound in clothes and computers. Plus, if you are a legitimate college student, you can find some really good deals.

I am a legitimate college student for the last three years, taking courses at a local technical college. There are some very cool deals out there like the one at Dell.

At Dell’s website, if a documented student picks one of several laptop computers, Dell throws in an XBOX 360. Yep, I have my new Dell 15R computer, now, and the XBOX will arrive in a few weeks. I am making big plans for the game box and my grandson. Oh, the price was right, too!

I was busy all day yesterday getting familiar with the new laptop, and today, I will start moving files from the old Toshiba to the new Dell. The decision becomes, do I move all the data in my old Documents directory to the Dell at one time, or do I move it selectively, one document directory at a time?

I have data and programs from three years of technical college. This includes programs from three Java programming courses, PHP programs, Flash programs, and notes and assignments from many other courses. You never can tell what you will need. It is kind of like cleaning out your garage. How could you ever throw away those old car license tags?

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

Ya’ll have a good day, and I will get busy organizing my new computer companion.

My Toshiba Up And Died

Well, not really. My Toshiba Satellite M505 laptop that I bought almost exactly three years ago has been crashing with a display adaptor error. If you have ever been typing along, happily blogging or doing real work, you know the absolute frustration of losing your work.

I remember going through this with a friend’s Hewlett-Packard laptop. It turned out that NVIDIA, the company that made the HP’s video adaptor, had a problem with a certain series of display chips. Neither HP or NVIDIA ever had a recall, and millions of HP computer owners were screwed, my friend included. Once the display chip goes south, you cannot even boot the machine.

My Toshiba had some problems a couple of years ago, and the hard drive failed. Fortunately, I had backups for the most critical data. I bought the Toshiba at Fry’s in 2009 along with three years warranty that didn’t cover much of anything. Warranty to Fry’s is just a cash-flow strategy.

Before I had the Toshiba, I had a Dell for about five years, and was very satisfied. The Dell warranty covered EVERYTHING, not at all like the junk warranty Fry’s sells.

It was time for a new laptop, and I went back to Dell.

Dell, and everyone else, is having back to school sales with special deals for students. If you are a verifiable student and choose a laptop from their selection, they will throw in an XBOX 360 game box, or a $200 gift card. All this is on top of the various discounts.

My choice was a Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition. It has an Intel i5 dual core processor, 720 gb disk drive, 8 gb  RAM, upgraded video (1080p) and audio specs, 4 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI port, WiFi, Bluetooth, Webcam and microphone, a multi-format card reader, and two years of extended-everything-covered warranty.

I don’t know why it is called a Special Edition, except it is equipped for students. That’s me.

My wife chimed in on the sale, and added a Dell All-In-One color laser printer that operates on the WiFi system. The printer was at a forty percent discount to regular price.

The lessons I have learned when computer shopping are as follow:

1. Do not buy from local retailers unless the deal is unbeatable. Buy direct from the manufacturer.

2. Always get the manufacturer’s warranty as the local retail warranty is not worth spit, expecially Fry’s.

3. Get more computer than you need. As time passes, your software will eat up more and more computer resources.

So, the new laptop, printer, and XBOX 360 cost about the same as the Toshiba three years ago. Plus, I get a decent warranty.

Life is good.

High Definition TV

Three years ago we bought a forty-seven inch high definition LCD screen television for our den. We love it, and cannot imagine watching standard NTSC television.

Do you remember all the hoopla over the previous decade about the government forcing the termination of regular television signals? I was among the many people griping and bitching about this overbearing move.  However, it never had an affect on my television watching as I was a cable tv customer, and they did all the conversion for me.

We still had an old fashioned, seventeen inch CRT type television in our bedroom. The ATT Uverse box converted the digital signals to analog to satisfy the ancient little television.

picture of high definition televisionLast week we decided that it was time to upgrade the bedroom tv, and bought an off-brand television from Brandsmart for less than $250.00. It is a thirty-two inch high definition television with 720p HDTV format and an LED screen. Note that most thirty-two inch sets came with 720p, not the desired 1080p. The LED screen is brighter than the bigger LCD screen downstairs, and the picture is beautiful. It was made in China.

The good news is that now, we have a nice high definition television in our bedroom for late night and early morning viewing.

The bad news is that we, the United States of America, invented high definition television and have to buy devices made in Asia to enjoy our labors.

Yeah. I know that this story is repeated many times with pretty much any consumer grade electronic device. We don’t manufacture much of anything, anymore. The base problem is that the American worker (if you can find one) will not work for a wage that is competitive around the world. It is getting to the point that we will have to start outsourcing our defense manufacturing. I sure hope that statement is wrong.

Right now, life is good with cheap televisions from China, along with Apple iPads, iPods, and Apple computers coming from the same place.

So, what is left for us to do in the world economy? Any ideas? Anybody?

Just An Amazon Second

Picture of Royal Observatory Clock in Greenwich, England
Old Royal Observatory Clock in Greenwich England

Before I leap to the Leap Second issue, I need to start at the beginning.

If you were watching a Netflix streaming movie last night, you could have noticed a two hour interruption of the movie as Netflix was down. Yes, down as off the air, out of service, dark, AWOL, etc. A Forbes article describes things very nicely.

So were Pinterest and Instagram, two very popular web sites and services.

This is really big stuff for us nerds. You see, all these prestigious and bullet proof web sites and services are hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon has a bullet proof site of its own, and is leveraging their technology to host other businesses that need super reliable service. It is a marriage made in heaven for those really popular sites with super heavy traffic.

What happened to this bullet proof service is that these erstwhile reliable services did not take full advantage of the reliability that the Amazon network offers. You see, Amazon has multiple zones of service, and they mirror their data across these zones so that if one zone crashes for any reason, another zone located far away will pick up the slack and keep customers happy.

However, Netflix and friends got cheap. They bet their business on only one Amazon network zone, the one in Northern Virginia. When the power system faulted, Amazon’s  backup generators picked up and then failed. Then, Amazon’s backup system to the first backup system failed. It was the perfect storm for problems. It was Murphy’s law deja vu, all over again.

So, those Amazon customers learned a lesson. No matter what data center you are using, and no matter how many backups it has for power and internet access, it will fail.

Now, on to the second part of the saga.

At midnight on Saturday, the worlds clocks turned from June 30 to July 1. It was also the year that the worlds atomic clocks added one second to the calendar. You might  remember that this year is a Leap Year, and it was time to add that second to the worlds atomic clocks. We are talking about the Leap Second. Wired Magazine has a good article on this event.

The problem with this Leap Second adjustment is that a lot of the computerized clocks were not ready for the event, and many software platforms could not handle it. So, we have web sites crashing, too. Things were not down long, but add these outages to the Amazon outage, and you get an Internet Outageddon.

If you remember the hoopla about the Y2K problem, you can transfer that kind of knowledge to the Leap Second problem. Everybody was ready for Y2K, and nothing happened. Everybody knew about the Leap Second stuff, but thought they were OK.

It has been an interesting weekend. Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog posts.

The Engineer’s Burden

Yep. I am an engineer.

I have to put up with all sorts of abuse like bad jokes and questioning looks from liberal arts majors whenever I make an indisputable point. For your future reference, whenever an engineer makes a point in a discussion, it is always indisputable. That’s the way we roll.

picture of the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower, A Great Engineering Achievement

Things have gotten so bad that even my good friend, Nick, is sending me those tasteless jokes that tend to circulate on the internet. Here are a couple of those insults.

1. Two engineering students were biking across a university campus when one said, “Where did you get such a great bike?” The second engineer replied, “Well, I was walking along yesterday, minding my own business, when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike, threw it to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, “Take what you want.” The first engineer nodded approvingly and said, “Good choice: The clothes probably wouldn’t have fit you anyway.”

2. To the optimist, the glass is half-full. To the pessimist, the glass is half-empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

OK. You get the message. Just why are people promoting these obviously false, and sick views of one of the most upstanding professions in modern civilization?

Easy-Peazy.  Others are envious of our knowledge and power over their lives.

An engineer’s education is exacting. As engineers, we had to master the collective academic areas of physics, mechanics (static and dynamic), electricity, electric field theory, magnetism, mathematics, materials science, quantum physics,  thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics.

Mathematics is our basic tool, and logic is our guide.

No other academic major in the university had such a demanding, and rigorous set of requirements. Others, lacking the intellectual ability to become engineers, went on to majors in medicine, law, art, and business with a heavy dose of recreational drugs and beer. While liberal arts people were playing cards in the student center, we were in labs, busting our butts to keep our heads above water academically.

Here’s another one of those insults.

Normal people believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Engineers believe that if it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features.

 Do you see what I mean? People are jealous. They just can’t stand it!

Now, if you translate all that to the blogosphere, you can see that when an engineer comments on a subject, he has already thought it through, and is presenting the best solution or criticism available. It is possible that he can be a bit off base when he doesn’t use Google to check his historical references.

Although I have not been a practicing engineer in many years, the education lives on, and on, and on. Once an engineer, always an engineer. Many times engineers have graduate degrees in business. So, be careful when arguing with that combination.

Engineers have made the technological world what is is. Think of the internet, cellular phones, HDTV, radio, airplanes, automobiles, smart phones, computers, push-up braziers, and silly putty. Well, maybe not the push-up bra, but if an engineer was not involved in that one, he should have been.

All these things make up our modern world, and the modern world expects more from us, every day.

There is a burden to being an engineer. It is difficult to be more knowledgable than your neighbors without telling them. It is even tougher to keep one’s mouth shut on the job when you know infiinitely more than your boss. We are learning that our burden is to build a better world, and not emabarass all the lack-luster players in the process. After all, we need others to say, “Do you want fries with that?”

Engineers rule!

Dinosaur Gas Story Is Science Fiction

Picture of BS button
Press Here To Initiate BS Flag

There’s a new study by British scientists that tries to answer the following question.

“Could methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs
have helped drive Mesozoic climate warmth?

To bring this into perspective, a bunch of inebriated British professorial types were sitting at their usual pub table one evening having a bull session. One of them, probably the lead author, jumped up and shouted, “dinosaur farts!” This kind of epiphany, no doubt triggered by a notable methane event at their table, is the way climate science is done. One of the old boys cut a big one, and that lone, gaseous event became a government-funded, peer-reviewed study.

That’s how climate science is done, nowadays. Somebody has a brain fart, and off to the government they go to get their flatulence funded.

So, what does this latest exercise in scientific Tom-Foolery purport to show? Well, for one thing the authors try valiantly to estimate the world of 200 million years ago, and to calculate the number of a certain breed of dinosaur, how much vegetation the being consumed, how much methane was emitted by each one.

In other words the so-called peer-reviewed study is all guess-work. There are no facts supporting the study. You can tell the authors are BS’ing you when the very first sentence uses the words, “likely to have”. That means that they have no clue what they are talking about.

Throughout the paper, the charade continues with phrases which include words “would probably”, and “estimate”. Where are the facts? Where is the evidence?

Many of you know exactly what I am talking about. You, too, have had those alcohol fueled brain storms, and left cocktail napkins on the bar covered with your idea of the next billion dollar business, or your scheme for a perpetual motion machine. The next morning you were over it, although a bit hung over.

Many peer reviewed studies are nothing more than somebody’s exercise in computer spoofing, or just plain people spoofing. You can spot the computer spoofing by the revelation of a mathematical model being used in the study.

There’s a lot of spoofing going on in the world of science, and this is but one example.

Hat tip to Watt Up With That.

iPad Update

picture of ipad

Now that I have had the new iPad for a few days, I am starting to really like the device. Since receiving it, I have  gotten a Bluetooth keyboard, and am using the combination to write this blog.

As assumed, the iPad is a great device for surfing the web, and reading pretty much anything you can find. The screen is only a little over ten inches in the diagonal measurement, and that in itself is a limitation in what you can do with the device. Right now, I am sitting up close to the screen, and have the iPad mounted on a book rest. The print  is very small, and can be a chore to read.  The position you use when typing because of the tiny screen is uncomfortable.

The Kindle reader application works just fine, and gives you a two column display, as opposed to a single column display on a laptop or desktop. There is a built-in reader function that will reformat a web browser article to single column, readable text.

Would I recommend buying an iPad? Yes. The iPad is a high quality device with many uses. However, if you want a good writing instrument, I suggest that you consider a laptop or desktop computer. Adding external options to a tablet computer can get expensive, and not always satisfactory.