Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Rant Time: iOS 9.1 and iCloud Backup == Fail

Posted in Apple, botch, business by commorancy on October 27, 2015

icloud_icon_brokenThis rant will be relatively short and sweet. I recently upgraded my iPhone to iOS 9.1. Not only were there some stupid issues around their new and improved upgrade process, iCloud backup is entirely broken. Let’s explore.

Pre-upgrade problems

Apple has introduced an upgrade after-hours process. What that means is that you need to agree to some terms and then the iPhone will upgrade between 2AM and 4AM as long as your phone is plugged in. I thought, “yay” until I got the agreement screen at which time I promptly yelled, “what the hell?”. Let me explain…

Apple forces on top of all else this automated upgrade agreement screen. It even disables the home button so you can’t get out of that screen by accidentally pressing the home button (like that would ever happen). That means you’re firmly planted on that screen (or so it seems). Anyway, on the agreement screen, you have to type in your Apple login credentials to verify you and to help you with that process, the iPhone conveniently pops up an on-screen keyboard like it typically does. Except, the Apple developers forgot one crucial detail. They forgot to give you a way to get rid of the keyboard when you’re done. Pressing the Enter button at the bottom right of the keyboard does absolutely nothing. The keyboard remains firmly planted on top of, you guessed it, the submit button. This means you cannot press the submit button… and, you can’t press the home button… and, you can’t do anything else.

So, now you’re literally stuck. You can’t press the submit button to complete the action and you can’t get out of this screen, or so it seems. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I pressed and held the power button until the Slide to Power Off slider appeared. Lo and behold, doing this actually made that screen go away. This entire debacle should have been my warning. But noooo. I didn’t listen to that little voice saying not to upgrade now.

Can’t use Automated Update

So now that I forced my way out of that screen with the power button, there is no way to go back in and resume the process. You’re probably wondering why I might want to do that? I had planned on hooking up a bluetooth keyboard to the phone so that on screen keyboard would not present. This would allow me to enter the data and then have access to the submit button, but noooo. Can’t make it that easy now can we Apple? So, I performed the upgrade in the normal way, by going into Settings=>General=>Software Update and used the standard method.

iCloud backup and 9.1 fail

Turn Off & DeleteTo a lesser degree, I had this same problem in 9.0.4 (or whatever the last 9.0 version was). When I attempted to backup my phone to iCloud, for whatever reason the iPhone decides to back up every app on your phone by default. Mind you, I have several gigs worth of apps on my phone on top of the 15G or so of images/videos in my library. I spent a good day working on getting my iCloud backup working on 9.0.x. It took me the better part of several hours working through stupid Settings app bugs just to get all of my apps excluded from backups. Let’s understand that Apple requires you to manually disable each and every app separately from being backed up. Let’s also understand that in order to do so, each time you click to green slider to the OFF position, you have confirm a popup that asks ‘Turn Off and Delete’ for every single app separately. Let’s consider that my phone has hundreds of apps installed. So many apps, in fact, that Settings crashes about 1/4 of the way through the ‘Turn Off and Delete’ confirmation banners. It’s an arduous task at best and it’s frustrating and aggravating at worst.

IMG_1821Yet, rolling into 9.1, Apple promptly reverts everything I spent 1-2 hours doing and now defaults back to turning every app ON (see left image) for backup yet again. How do I know? I get that very annoying ‘Not Enough Storage’ notification on my lock screen. I spent valuable time setting all of that up and Apple promptly forgets my settings. The very definition of bad user experience (UX). Instead, this time I can’t even stop the backups of any apps. Apple only gives 5GB of data storage for free. I had all of my devices comfortably making backups on iCloud using maybe 3.1GB total (4 devices), after the excruciatingly aggravating task of finally excluding all of the unnecessary crap that Apple insists on including. Perfect… until 9.1.

Now, I’m in a catch 22. I can’t make a successful backup because iOS continually resets all of my apps and forces me to back up everything to the iCloud the first time. Yet, iOS won’t allow me to change settings to deselect the apps because it must have a successful backup first. FAIL. You can go try to deselect apps, but that’s all for show. It doesn’t actually work. Oh sure, the green ON buttons turn OFF, but it’s not as if that actually works. It doesn’t respect that those apps are now OFF and the backup fails. Once it fails, all of those buttons you’ve spent tons of times clicking to OFF will all be automatically reenabled after the backup failure.

I have no idea what Apple was thinking here, but they clearly had their heads in the iClouds. This problem has gotten progressively worse with each release and has culminated in iCloud backup being entirely unusable unless you feel the urge to spend at least $1/mo for 50GB of storage so you can work around Apple’s stupid bugs. I have no intention of working around any developers bugs by spending money. Either provide workable functionality or don’t. But, there is no way I will ever spend money to a company to work around bugs in software. Apple, if you really want to force us to pay you to get more than 5GB, then just charge us up front for any space issued. Don’t beat around the bush by introducing bugs that make the freebie you’ve given become worthless. Let’s just be honest here.

If this is about spending yet more money with you to get people to buy into your iCloud storage, then just tell us that’s what you want. Don’t force us to go buy more because you want to force everything on our phones to back up. That’s not how you do it. Just change the terms and send everyone a notice that the 5GB storage you’ve issued us is no longer free and at the end of the month you lose it or you pay for it. Just tell the consumers what you want. You don’t need to do it by introduction of bugs that forces phone owners to backup everything on their phone.

Seriously… 5GB?

In this day and age when Google is giving practically terabytes of storage for free, Apple can only afford 5GB a month? Really? How much money does Apple make off of their products and they’re going to be that stingy with storage? On top of that, they force you to backup your entire 16/32/64GB phone over to iCloud. Not only is that stupid from the 5GB free perspective, it’s just asinine that I can’t control my bandwidth to this service. Seriously, I don’t want to send over 10-20GB of data across my network bandwidth. I want to control what I send and how much I send. Since I can no longer do that…

Buh Bye iCloud Backup.. it was nice knowing ya!

I’m done with iCloud backup. Not only is it stupidly designed, what real purpose does it serve at 5GB? I can backup my entire phone’s contents on iTunes on my local machine(s) as many times as I wish. There are no bandwidth constraints or disk space issues. Yet, I can barely backup my contacts on iCloud at 5GB. I have no intention of dropping $1/mo to get to 50GB, which is still only a pittance, let alone $10/mo for 1TB. Who knows how secure the data really is in iCloud? One breach and Apple will be run out of town on a rail.

I’m tired of dealing with Apple’s stupid developers who can no longer code their way out of a paper bag. I’m tired of dealing with bugs that shouldn’t even exist on a device that used to be the most intuitive device built. Now it’s a device that is merely following behind Android’s, ahem, innovation. So, I’ll happily head back to the time before iCloud existed. I’m done with that service for backups. I prefer to keep my backups local anyway. Buh Bye iCloud backups.

Apple, figure it out !

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Why Nintendo’s Miiverse is already dead

Posted in video game, video gaming by commorancy on March 17, 2013

Miiverse is Nintendo’s newest gaming social network only available on the Wii U console.  While it has some benefits, it also has many drawbacks. These drawbacks will become Miiverse’s ultimate failing and why it will ultimately fail to gain traction as a lasting social network.

What exactly is Miiverse?

Miiverse is a gaming social twitter-like network available exclusively through the Nintendo Wii U console and only available by using a Nintendo Network ID (which is also created exclusively on the Wii U console). The Nintendo Network ID (NNID) is much like an Xbox Live ID used on the Xbox.  However, unlike Xbox, you cannot access your Nintendo Network ID from the Internet.  It is only and exclusively available strictly through the Wii U console.  This is one of the major failings of this network and only one of the major reasons why this social network will ultimately fail.

No Internet access to content?

[Update: Miiverse is now available on the Internet in a limited fashion. However, at the time of this article’s publish date, it was not yet available. You can now visit the Miiverse Web Site and see your posts. The below paragraph is here for historical reasons.]

Nope.  There is no web access or any other external access to any of the content placed in Miiverse or, indeed, anything else related to your NNID. So, you cannot review anything about your NNID until you have access to your Wii U console again. This is one of Nintendo’s bright ideas that is ultimately a bad idea. Even Microsoft has learned that you have to allow access to at least pieces of your Xbox Live ID content on the Internet so you can at minimum login and get some information about your Xbox Live account. So, while you can’t get access to the exclusive content on the Xbox, you can at least see your gamer points and profile and set up things about your Xbox Live ID.

This exclusive access via the Wii U console will ultimately be the failing of this network. Basically, if you don’t buy a Wii U, you can’t have access to Miiverse content.  If your console breaks, you have to buy another one to gain access again. There is no way to get access to this content from the web or in any other way than through a Nintendo device. Even Apple produced iTunes so you could at least buy things on the iTunes store without owning an iDevice. Nintendo just doesn’t get it.

Miiverse is limited

Instead of Nintendo providing something more useful like game Achievements, they thought that having a half-baked social network would take the place of this.  Well, as a gamer, I’m here to say that this is not an adequate replacement. Being able to post for help and gain access to it quickly is cool, but you can easily get help by using Google and posting to open forums available on the Internet.  I don’t need Miiverse for this.  Yes, the screen shot feature is cool, but it is limited and the Nintendo admins are strictly fascist with reports of content problems.

Worse, you can’t even edit your posts.  So, if you forget to mark something as a ‘spoiler’, then you cannot fix that. You can only delete your post and start over.  Worse, there’s a 5 minute timer on posts, so if you delete a post and want to repost, you have to wait 5 minutes to fix it.  So, even if the admins mark a problem with your post later, you can’t correct the problem as there’s no way to edit it.  Seriously, if you’re going to flag posts as problems, at least have the decency to add editing tools to modify and correct the problem.

Miiverse administration is stupidly designed and poorly operated

If your content is reported, you can expect that you are always in the wrong. It doesn’t matter whether or not you really are, it matters what the admins say.  And clearly, the admins always side with the person who reports the content and not with the person who created the post.  So, be warned that if someone reports your content, you are always marked as being at fault.  Worse, the whole administration piece is stupidly designed.

There is a ‘Messages’ area where if your content is reported, you will receive a canned response from some anonymous moderator stating that you have violated Miiverse ‘terms and conditions’.  If you want to dispute the process, you can’t.  Your options for response are limited to about 6 different canned responses, none of which are at all appropriate to getting a proper response back from the admins.  No, you cannot write an email or send a text response to someone to ask a question or get clarification.  In fact, if you do need to contact someone in person regarding an issue, you have to go to Nintendo.com, submit their general web form case and then wait for them to provide you with a pin number and the phone number to call in.  That phone number being 1-877-803-3676.  But, don’t try to call it blind.  You will need the pin code provided by a Nintendo staffer to call in. Note, they don’t tell you this anywhere in any documentation or even on the Wii U in Miiverse. You have to somehow just ‘know’ this.

Worse, there is little the admins can really do short of removing the post which they should really be doing anyway. If they delete your NNID, you can simply create another one.  Sure, you might lose all your content associated with the old ID, but it’s not like you had achievement points associated with it anyway. You will lose any posts you made, but no big deal there either.  It’d basically be like losing a private twitter feed that no one but Wii U users have access to. It would not be like losing your Twitter account which would be a much bigger deal.  Although, you might lose money you’ve built up in the Nintendo store, but that’s something I’m not sure of yet.

Yeahs vs Spoilers

There is a ‘Spoilers’ flag that can be set on a post.  Unfortunately, you cannot mark something as a spoiler after the fact and it only takes one report by some random schmo for your post to be thrown into question as being a spoiler. This then throws the content into some random admin’s queue who really doesn’t care and will always side with the person who reported.  You can’t dispute this process at all.  So, your only action left is to delete the post which the admins could have done anyway.

Posts can be marked with a ‘Yeah’ (which is akin to Facebook’s Like feature), but these have no bearing on whether or not it’s a spoiler. With spoilers, you have to report it through a form.  Once reported, an anonymous moderator makes the decision whether it violates terms.  But, it doesn’t matter if it does or doesn’t.  You’re already guilty and you will always be in the wrong. Nintendo is not taking any chances, so the poster of the content will always be dinged on the content. So, how exactly does any of this in any way incent any gamer to want to participate in this network knowing they’re going to have run-ins with admins? Nintendo, you’re biting the hand that’s feeding you.

With any game, any still image is considered a spoiler.  If you’re showing game content, that’s a spoiler for someone. So, it doesn’t matter what image you’ve posted, if someone reports it as a spoiler, it is a spoiler (at least according to Nintendo). This is the wrong approach for a social network. Nintendo shouldn’t be making the decisions about spoilers. Social networks need to operate on likes or thumbs down features.  Instead of taking the word of only one person (which is currently what it takes for Miiverse), it should be self-policed by the software based on the consensus of a number of people participating in the social network.  If a number of people tag something as a spoiler, then mark it as a spoiler automatically. Problem solved with no personnel intervention involved.  Don’t flag an account as in ‘violation of terms’ with this silly and stupid canned response system.  Just automatically take action by allowing the users to self-police the content.  Again, if more people mark it as not a spoiler than those who do, it remains visible as not a spoiler.  Social networks should be governed by those participating in the social network, not by Nintendo employees. Nintendo clearly doesn’t understand the concept of a social network or how it should operate.

Deleting Content

If you decide to delete all of your Miiverse posts, you might as well just go delete your entire NNID.  It’s a whole lot faster.  Trying to weed through your old posts on Miiverse is like watching paint dry. This entire process is majorly botched, hugely time consuming and barely works.  I had about 170 posts and it took me nearly 2 hours to delete most of them. Suffice it to say that you have to refresh the entire list of posts each time you want to get to the next post to delete.  And, because they only load a screen at a time, you have to wait when you pull the screen up for it to load more posts in. Worse, you have to basically unfriend and unfollow everyone in your list to limit this list to just your posts so you’re not scrolling through tons of other people’s posts to get to your own.  Worse, there’s no way to see, at a glance, who you’ve friended or followed.  So, you have to just weed through the ‘Activity Feed’ to find the people you’ve friended and followed. Note, I’m not even filling in half of the details here for deleting content, but suffice it to say that Miiverse was not designed to delete your old content.

No opt-out

If you don’t want to participate in Miiverse, there is no way to do this on the Wii U console.  Basically, you have to disconnect your Wii U from the network to not participate in Miiverse. There is no option on the Wii U console to turn it off or in any other way opt-out.  Note that as long as you have an NNID associated with your Wii U, your console will log into the Miiverse service and show you content on the carousel screen even if you don’t want to participate.

Overall, Miiverse seems like a good idea, but it’s badly designed, poorly implemented and poorly operated.  Yes, the one thing that it does is allow for quick access to help, but that one feature is completely overshadowed by how poorly the entire software is conceived and implemented. I personally cannot recommend this social network for any use other than for a quick ‘Help I’m stuck’ kind of question. Even then, I would suggest using Google first as it will likely be faster.

If you are a parent and don’t want your child participating in this social network, you have no option to turn it off from within the Wii U console.  So, if you’re thinking of buying a Wii U console for your child, you should be well aware of this fact before you consider that purchase. If you would prefer your child to not participate in this poorly run social network, then you should probably consider a different console purchase.  Additionally, considering that Nintendo is having major troubles even roping in developers to put their AA titles on the Wii U, I’d say purchasing (or, rather, not purchasing) the Wii U is pretty much a no-brainer.

Done with Miiverse

I’ve given Miiverse a fair shake and have come to conclusion that because of its limited usefulness and Nintendo’s fascist moderators and ‘terms and conditions’ coupled with bad software design, I can’t be part of that community. This is the reason I deleted all of my content on there. I may yet delete my NNID and just be done with it.

Until Nintendo can figure out that this social network design is crap and until they redesign it from the ground up, my suggestion is to avoid using Miiverse as its sole value is extremely limited and may actually cause more harm than good for some people.  Nintendo, you need to figure this out fast.

iPad mini: Smaller? Yes. Worth it? No.

Posted in Apple, botch, cloud computing by commorancy on November 5, 2012

With all the hype over Apple’s new brainchild, the iPad mini, I’m just not so hopeful about this tablet model at all. Apple has definitely taken a step backwards in this one, which is quite an unusual step for Apple. Typically, Apple always retains previous technology standards it has already set in new products. Usually, it even improves upon those standards. Not so with the iPad mini.

What exactly is the iPad mini?

This tablet is effectively a smaller version of the iPad 2 with a better camera. That pretty much describes it. Many people even go so far as to call it the iPad touch. Actually, the degrades the iPod touch. The iPod touch at least has a market in small handheld touch devices. The iPod touch has a form factor that’s actually useful when you don’t want the expensive 3G data cost tether, that and having access to the rich set of applications available in IOS. So, you can buy into pretty much what an iPhone is without that monthly data tether. Unless you’re on the go 90% of the time or you travel 100% of the time, having a data plan on a phone is pretty much a waste when you are also buying internet at home.

Yet, Apple hasn’t yet to introduce the 3G version of the iPad mini, but it is apparently on the way. That said, what is it about the iPad mini that makes it a compelling device? Well, frankly not much. For me, Apple botched it. Shrinking an iPad 2 into a smaller form factor while adding a better camera just isn’t enough. This is not what Apple is known for, but it is what the NEW Tim Cook Apple will become known for. That is, rehashing old devices into new form factors. The Steve Jobs’s Apple was never about rehashing old technology in new ways. Steve Jobs was always about pushing the envelope to make technology better, easier and faster for the users.

So, the question is, how does the iPad mini fit into that Steve Jobs’ vision? It doesn’t. This is the reason Steve was against releasing a smaller form factor tablet. The iPad mini is everything Steve Jobs didn’t want in a tablet and it is the reason it has not existed until now. It took Steve Jobs departing this earth to undo that vision. That’s why Steve could make Apple better with each and every device and why Tim Cook will begin struggling to keep Apple alive.

Is there a market?

Probably, for people who simply don’t want to carry around multiple devices (i.e., Kindle, iPod touch, iPad and camera), the size of it the iPad mini might work. For me, the 1024×768 screen is just too much of a step backwards. The iPad 3 is a compelling device with its retina display. Why did Apple skimp in this department on the iPad mini? I don’t get it. They’re not known for taking step backwards in technology. This is something I’d expect from Samsung, Asus, Dell or pretty much any other PC maker. I would never expect this level of technological concession from Apple. On the other hand, if Apple had made a phone out of the iPad mini, that might be worth considering.  In fact, turning the iPad 3 into a phone, I’d be all over that.  I’m rather tired of carrying around a phone and the iPad.  Just let me carry one device and let that device be an iPad. With wired and Bluetooth headsets, you don’t need to hold a phone to your face any longer. So, let’s consolidate the devices. That change would definitely make the iPad mini much more attractive as a device.

Weight and Size vs Price

Yes, it’s smaller and lighter, but at what a technology cost? You get a smaller technologically inferior device from what Apple has previously produced in the Retina iPad 3, but at a substantially higher price than is expected for such an inferior device. At $329, you’re effectively buying what exactly? An expensive 1024×768 tablet. Granted, it runs IOS that has previously been known for its stability. Unfortunately, that has changed with IOS 6. What has originally been considered base stability is now gone with IOS 6. Apps like Mail, Safari and even iTunes are unstable. You’ll get a notice for an email in a banner, click on it and the Mail app crashes. Definitely not stable. I’ve also had regular crashes with Safari and iTunes.

So, what Apple had going for itself in stability of IOS is pretty much gone. IOS has now lost its standing as the ultimate goto tablet OS. It’s just a matter of time before the quality of Apple’s products degrades to the point where it’s not even worth discussing. Note, we’re already on the downward side of the Apple quality bell curve. So, unless Tim Cook can manage to crack the whip and right this ship, Apple’s ship is already listing. It’s just a matter of time before it capsizes.

Apple’s Botched Rollout Plan

The whole roll out plan for the iPad mini was just convoluted with its staggered late announcement a month or so after its fall release announcement and then the staggered roll out of the device itself with the WiFi version releasing first. Definitely not something Jobs would have ever allowed. The parts also leaked on the Internet early, so many people already knew the form factor before ever hearing the announcement. Apple needs to lock down its supply chain much more tightly than it has. Again, this is something Jobs would have gone on a tirade as well. Secrecy was critically important to Steve Jobs.

Worth it?

Depends on what you want to do with an iPad mini? While I can definitely see a use and the usefulness for the iPad 3 with its multi-core processor and Retina display, taking this much of a step back for the iPad mini is not the answer. If you really must have this form factor, then perhaps. As a gift, if you really want to spend that level of cash on someone, perhaps. But, even as a gift, it could be seen as ‘cheaping out’.  That is, giving them a Toyota when they wanted the Ferrari (iPad 3).  Be careful with this one as a gift. For people who won’t use the pixels on the screen, it might be ok.

So, is it worth the price? No. This device would only be compelling if it were about $100 cheaper at each model price point or if it contained a phone. At $329, it’s too costly for such a huge step backwards technologically. The size does not make up for that. At $229, it would definitely be getting much closer to the right price. At $199 for a 16GB WiFi model, the iPad mini would be truly at the right price for that level of 2 year old technology. Asking people to pay $130 more for a 2 year old device is just price gouging, or as some people call it, the Apple tax. In this case, the Apple tax is most definitely not worth it.

Resident Evil 6: Complete disappointment

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 6, 2012

As you may or may not know, I also like gaming.  Specifically, RPG and first and third person shooters.  Well, at least some first and third person shooters, anyway.  Whether I like it depends on how it’s done.  In this case Resident Evil 6 is not done well at all.

Resident Evil Franchise

Even though this game series has turned into a fairly hefty cash cow for both Milla Jovovich (and hubby) in the celluloid format, the games have been relatively uninspired for the last several years.  The last really good Resident Evil game was RE4 and that was years ago.  Well, I’m sad to say that Resident Evil 6 is a complete and total disappointment in the gaming department. Capcom just can’t figure this out.  For whatever reasons, the developers over at Capcom Japan just aren’t with the program.

The absolute best game of this franchise is still, bar none, Resident Evil 4.  This game had all the makings of turning the franchise into a smash hit.  Unfortunately, the game developers decided to try something new with whole tag-along partner thing in RE5 which failed miserably, by the way.  That game was an unmitigated disaster.  It had no depth, the story was boring, the fights were stupid and the fact that you had to keep your partner alive in the middle of the fights was asinine.  There was no fun to be had with that game at all.

You’d think Capcom could have figured out that the reason Resident Evil 5 flopped so badly was that it was just so poorly done.  Yet, here we are with Resident Evil 6 bringing in much of the boring and silly storylines from 5 even though Leon is heading this chapter up.  It’s unfortunate, too.  This could have been such a great addition if Capcom had even minimally listened to its fanbase. No, they did their own thing again and assumed this is what we wanted in a game. They could not have been more wrong.

Seriously, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t even have a pause button!?!?  You can’t even pause the effing game.  I mean, seriously?  Why not?  Every other game on the planet has figured out how to pause, why is Resident Evil 6 the exception?  You can’t even step away to go take a pee without some zombies nailing you.  What fun is there in that?

Worse, when you restart the game, it takes you back almost an entire chapter just to begin again.  You can’t even start at the point where you left off.  Seriously, this is one extremely badly designed game.  On top of just these stupid design issues, the gameplay is sluggish, awkward and the collision detection is some of the worst I’ve seen in a game in a very long time.

No awards for this turd

As much as Capcom seems to think this is some award winning thing, it’s a festering piece of feces covered in flies. It has no redeeming value at all.  This game is so bad, it’ll be in the bargain bin in 60 days.  Less, I’d venture. If you really want this game, just wait about 30 days and pick it up on the cheap.  Even then, why waste your time with this dreadful game?  Go pick up Skyrim or Fallout 3 or Portal or some other much better game than this and spend some time with a quality game.  If you really love Resident Evil, pick up Resident Evil 4.  It’s still far far outshines anything Capcom has ever done to date in this series.  RE4 is, in fact, so far ahead of every other RE game that I can’t even fathom that Capcom had a hand in writing it.  In fact, they probably didn’t.

It’s unfortunate that Capcom doesn’t quite get the gaming landscape today. Resident Evil 6 had so much it could have been and the developers just squandered away that opportunity.  This is and will be the last Resident Evil game I buy from Capcom.  No more throwing good money after bad.  Capcom get with the program.  As they say, once bitten, twice shy.  No more Capcom titles in my house.

[UPDATE 2012-10-24: Thanks Riko]

Apparently you can pause the game, but only if you turn off multiplayer (?) features.  Note, however, that I didn’t ‘turn on’ any multiplayer features when I played.  I just played the game with however the campaign started.  If that enables multiplayer features, I didn’t know it.  Worse, I wasn’t playing multiplayer at all, however.  I was playing the game in as though it were a single person campaign. That this game apparently turns on multiplayer features even though you are not using it (and worse, blocking the pause feature) is just stupid game design.  I have to agree with Riko.  This game is one big turd named starting with an s and ending with a t.

Stars: 1/2 out of 5 (Capcom gets the 1/2 star for effort).

Apple’s iPad: 10 inch iPod Touch or iDisaster?

Posted in Apple, ipod, itunes by commorancy on January 28, 2010

Recently, I wrote the article “What is it about tablets?”.  In that article, I discussed what Apple must do to make the newly announced iPad (tablet computer) successful.  Apple needs a paradigm shifting technology embedded in the iPad that would make the usability of such a tablet go leaps ahead of previous tablet attempts.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Failure to launch (and type!)

The iPad may look like a pad, but it functions nothing like a pad.  In fact, this device looks and acts like an iPod touch on steroids.  But, Apple failed this device on so many levels.  First, let’s start with the design.  The iPad back is not flat (which is just like the newest thin iPod touch).  The back is curved. So, laying the iPad on a flat surface leads to wobbly typing or surfing.  This forces you to put it on a soft surface or hold it in your hand.  Not an optimal or convenient design.

Typing input

On the touch, however, it was small enough to hold in one hand and type with the other.  In fact, you could hold it with two hands and thumb type.  With a 10 inch sized device, one hand typing isn’t really an option.  But, this whole typing issue just goes back to the fundamental input problem with tablets.  How do you reliably get input into a tablet computer?  The options are voice, handwriting recognition and touch typing.  None of these input styles make for a truly usable computer experience.  So, on this level, Apple has failed.  Funny too, because Apple is usually the leader when it comes to innovative ways to improve user interface experience.

Finger Friendly?

I’d like to point out another possible problem.  On the iPod Touch, the touch screen surface only works with an actual finger touch.  It doesn’t work with gloves on or by using your fingernail.  As a result, this makes the touch surface a problem in the winter or for women with long nails.  I do not presently know that the iPad uses this same touch screen technology, but it’s very probable.  Therefore, this could make the iPad not friendly for glove wearers or women with long nails.

Lack of ports

Most computers today need to support the latest in port technology.  More and more, however, Apple seems to shun standards and try for their own proprietary connectors.  Sometimes it works.  More often than not, it fails.  In this case with this device, it adds to the design failure.  With the iPad, Apple should have added standard ports like HDMI and a Secure Digital slot.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do this and this device suffers as a result.  This is especially bad considering most Netbooks offer most of these ports.  Yes, some Netbooks even offer HDMI ports.

iPod Touch Clone

Unfortunately for the iPad, it appears to be a 10 inch iPod touch.  The interface is, of course, 10 inches.  This means it uses the same interface that’s on the iPhone and iPod touch.  On a small handheld device, that interface works well.  On a 10 inch screen, the oddness of it all is quite apparent.  The resolution is higher on the 10 inch screen and, thus, the iPad scales up most apps to accommodate.  The problem is the scaling.  Some apps look fine scaled.  Some can actually take advantage of the larger screen (mapping softwares).  With low res apps, the iPad scales up the app window to fill the 10 inch screen which looks quite lame.  Granted, all of this can be fixed by developers reworking their apps.  But, for now, it makes this device all the more clumsy.

App Store Tie-In

This is yet another in a series of devices that Apple is requiring the user to use solely with iTunes and the App store.  Inevitably, the iPad will be jailbroken.  Until then, the audience is captive to the Apple store.  So, if you want apps or media, that’s where you must go.  Of course, you can import media into iTunes app and sync that, but you cannot load any apps other than those that come from Apple’s app store until it is jailbroken (probably the day after it gets released).

This also means that tried and tested apps you’ve come to know on Windows or even Mac OS X may never become available on the iPad due to iTunes App Store restrictions.

A must have? No.  Not yet anyway.

Apple has yet to convince me (and many others) of the necessity of this device.  There’s no wow-factor here or anything compelling to make the iPad stand out as must have.  There’s nothing here to say that it is even useful for anything beyond what a Netbook can accomplish for less money.  The iPod touch is still much more useful due to its size.  The iPad is sitting in a cost space near Netbook pricing (the iPad is more costly), but Netbooks still have much more functionality due to a real keyboard and better use of the screen (not to mention, full fledged apps).

At the entry level pricing of $499, which will mean a bare bones model, you’re sure to get as little as possible.   To get all the bells and whistles, you’re likely to pay well over $1000 for the equivalent of a large iPod touch.

In other words, Apple did not provide a paradigm shifting technology necessary to make the iPad absolutely compelling.  In fact, the whole big clumsy nature of this tablet is quite apparent even from the image of Steve Jobs holding it.

This is a 1.0 device that feels like a 0.5 device with poorly thought out software.  The iPod/iPhone interface and its apps were designed to be used on handheld small screen devices.  Putting this interface onto a 10 inch sized display and expecting full fledged computing out of portable apps is stretching this device to its limits.  Granted, Apple can generally get the kinks out of new devices.  But, the tablet has such a long history of failure going back to Grid Computers in the early 90s that Apple has a steep bank to climb to get out of this trench they’ve dug themselves into.

Overall, I’m still underwhelmed and I’ve seen nothing yet that screams, must have.  An iPod touch screams that due to its sheer size and portability.  The iPad definitely does not!

Why Serial ATA will ultimately fail

Posted in computers by commorancy on July 17, 2009

Serial ATA is the replacement for Parallel ATA hard drives in computers.   Serial ATA offers faster speeds, yes, but is still immensely inconvenient in the Windows world (and probably with Linux and Mac as well).

Problematic design / brittle plastic

First, the thing you’ll notice different between a PATA drive and SATA drive is the connectors.  Gone are the bigger multipin data connector and the 4 pin power connector.  Instead, now we have a multipin power and multipin data connector that has a slim/thin form factor.  At first glance, you might think this is cool looking replacement connector.  We’ll I’m here to tell you it’s not.  The plastic used to hold the flat pins in place is weak and brittle.  If you’re not absolutely light touch careful with how the drive fits in place, you’re likely to break one or both of the connectors off.  Once that happens, the drive is toast.

In the 18 years I’ve been a systems administrator, I’ve changed many a hard drive and never once broken an IDE’s data connector.  I’ve torn a few cables and I’ve bent a few pins, but this is nothing that can’t be corrected easily leaving the drive fully functional.  With the brittle plastic SATA connectors on the drive itself, it’s extremely easy to break them off.   For this poor design choice alone, this is one reason why SATA manufacturers must eventually redesign this connector or the drive acceptance will fail.

Out with the old, in with the new

Hard drive manufacturers and motherboard manufacturers have been steadily pushing EIDE (IDE) out the door in replacement for SATA drives.  That’s great if everyone was on board at the same time.  Unfortunately, Microsoft still isn’t on board with this change over.  There are still limited native SATA drivers even in Windows Server 2008 (which is an offshoot of Vista).  This means, you must still load drivers for certain popular SATA controllers.  For example, one of the most common controllers used on motherboards is the SI3114 (Silicon Image) controller.  Yet, you still must load drivers to get Windows to recognize a drive connected to it before Windows will install.  If you forgot the driver or don’t realize you need it, you’ll easily spend 30 minutes chasing it down from your controller or motherboard manufacturer.

I realize the hard drive and motherboard manufacturers are trying to affect change, but you can’t do it when Microsoft still isn’t on board.  I guess these businesses haven’t really figured this out yet.

Road to failure

I don’t mean hard drive failure either.  I mean failure of the standard to be accepted in the long term.  For poor design choices and the lack of giving Microsoft time to embed the most common SATA drivers into Windows installation media, SATA drives are likely to eventually fail to be the defacto data storage device of choice.  Connectors on the back of drives need to be rugged (or at least more rugged than the brittle plastic they are using).  The connectors could have been both bigger and more thoughtfully designed than what is on the back of SATA drives.  For hot plugable configs, these connectors seem to work reasonably well, but they are still not perfect (as you have to play with alignment to ensure proper connectivity, hoping you don’t break parts off).  The SCA connector was a much better standard as far as hot plug standards go:  one single connector, big enough to be functional, easy to hotplug and rugged enough to keep from breaking parts off.

SATA drive manufacturers need to work on a design spec for better more rugged connectors on the back of SATA drives.  Motherboard manufacturers need to ensure their SATA controller has a built-in driver in Windows installation packages so no specialty setups are necessary.   Without these two steps, SATA drives will eventually fail to gain the acceptance and the momentum to keep these products going.  Manufacturers seem to think that there is no other choice for data storage in the computer.  When you think of hard drives, ATA drives are the first that come to mind.  But, we are fast approaching solid state technologies.   These solid state storage technologies don’t need the hoggy space of a hard drive chassis, the spinning noise and the eventual failure.  With solid state drives, instead of 1U machines, we may even begin seeing 1/2U machines or less.

Fix it or fail

Hard drive manufacturers need to rethink SATA.  They need to design both a better connector and faster data rates.  3Gbps speeds is reasonably fast, but we need to be about 10Gbps before vast improvements in transfer rates are actually noticed at a storage level.

Without the necessary support, which by now we should have had in the SATA world, it doesn’t make sense for HD manufacturers to push IDE out the door.  There are still far too many times where IDE devices are necessary to get a system to a workable state.  Motherboard manufacturers need to be doubly careful.  SATA-only motherboards lead to challenges during installation of Windows due to lack of drivers.  These installation challenges can lead to frustration and eventually a return of the motherboard to the store.

For all of these reasons, the SATA specification and design needs to be rethought.  The brittle plastic connectors are no where near rugged enough and need to be made much more sturdy.   The lack of driver support makes installation and repairs extremely frustrating.  Chasing down SATA drivers to place on floppy disks can be a challenge even for the most knowledgeable.

For now, this is the state of SATA.  It was a promising standard, but for now it’s become a problem because the hard drive industry is trying to push for change far too rapidly without adequately testing the design of the drive.  For anyone reading who may work with SATA designs or manufacturing, please feel free to take this to your bosses for review.

iTunes can corrupt your iPod’s iTunes library

Posted in Apple, computers, corruption, ipod, itunes, music by commorancy on January 19, 2009

As a follow up to this Randosity article, this article will focus on a specific condition when iTunes will corrupt your iPod’s music database… over and over and over.

How it all starts

About a week ago, my iPod became unrecognized by iTunes.  Because iTunes cannot ‘recognize’ the iPod, it requests that you restore the iPod using the restore feature.  As a result of a domino effect issue, this problem became more and more compounded.  Compounded to the point that I was ready to sell the iPod to someone else and get a different solution.

What is the issue exactly?

This issue started right after the first unrecognized error.  After the iPod becomes unrecognizable (we’ll get to what that means shortly), I had to restore the iPod to actually use it again.  From that point forward, I kept having to restore it about once a day.  Mind you, this is the 8GB iPod Touch and not a 60GB iPod.  If it had been a 60GB device, I would have sold it no questions asked.  I digress.  Anyway, the restores kept getting more and more frequent.

  • So, I plug the iPod Touch into the computer’s USB port and let iTunes synchronize the touch.  The synchronize progresses normally and then ends correctly.
  • I unplug the iPod and check it out.  Yep, everything is all there.
  • I plug it in again and iTunes then syncs again.  Except, this time I noticed (or thought I noticed) iTunes synchronizing some music that was already on the iPod.  I thought it was weird, but I discounted it.
  • I unplug the iPod and check the ‘Music’ app.  I see a “There is no music loaded” message…frustrating (note this was the first time it had happened).
  • I plug the iPod back into the computer.   iTunes says, “This iPod is unrecognized, please restore it”.
  • Note that the Touch’s Apps are all still loaded and the iPod works even though iTunes won’t recognize it (and the music is missing).

What does ‘unrecognizable‘ mean exactly in the iTunes?

After poking around on the Internet about any similar type issues, I’ve found others who’ve had similar behavior on their iPods.  The base problem that prevents iTunes from ‘recognizing’ the iPod is that the iPod’s music database (iTunesDB) file has become corrupted.  Basically, when the iPod’s iTunesDB file becomes corrupted internally, iTunes refuses to recognize the device or work with it forcing the user to do complete restore (even when the unit is STILL functioning).

Restore Process

There are so many problems with this restore process, suffice it to say that Apple is in desperate need of help.  Apple has designed the iPod to work under ideal conditions (i.e., never need to restore).  However, when it comes time to restore your iPod and because they didn’t really work this all out properly, the restore process is where iTunes fails miserably.

When iTunes needs to restore the unit, it places the iPod into a special restore mode.  A mode that appears to make the unit receptive to installation of firmware (a special icon appears).  After iTunes extracts and transfers the firmware over to the iPod, the iPod reboots and installs the firmware (all the while iTunes is watching the progress).  After the unit has restored the firmware to factory defaults, iTunes allows you to try to restore from a previous backup or set it up as a new iPod.  This factory reset process can take anywhere between 10-15 minutes.

iPod Backups

iTunes only allows for one (1) stored backup of your iPod at a time.  So, if that one (1) backup that iTunes has is corrupted, you’ll waste a ton of time trying to restore only to find that the iPod is still corrupted.  So, you’ll have to start the restore completely over again and then set the iPod up as a new device (wasting even more time).  This happened to me.  I also quickly realized it was simpler (and faster) to avoid using an existing backup and just setting it up from scratch again.  Apple really needs to allow iTunes to take multiple backups in dated slots and allow these backups to be stored outside of iTunes in files.

Note, if you choose to set the iPod up from scratch, you will have to completely set up your apps again.  For example, settings like your WiFi settings, your email settings and your VPN settings will all have to be manually reconfigured.  Any apps that require login and passwords will need to be re-entered.

Restoring your settings and media

If you’ve chosen to restore your iPod’s customization settings from a backup, this process will take between 10-15 minutes to complete.  And no, as slow as this process is, it doesn’t restore music, videos or any other media.  That still has yet to be done (and comes last).  After the settings have been restored, you now have a workable (and very blank) iPod again.  So, the next thing iTunes does is sync up the applications, then the music, then everything else.   The applications will take anywhere from a few minutes to over ten minutes depending on how many apps you have downloaded.  The music restore will take whatever it takes to copy the size of your unit (about 6 gigs takes at least 15-25 minutes).  So, an 8GB iPod Touch, it takes probably 15-45 minutes depending.  If you’re restoring a fully loaded 32 or 60GB iPod, your rebuild will take a whole lot longer.

Corruption

The issue I faced, however, is that something kept corrupting the iTunesDB file on the iPod.  It was either the iPod’s hardware messing up or iTunes was shuttling something over it shouldn’t have been.  I noticed that on a particular CD the artwork kept disappearing in iTunes (it would be there and then it would show the blank icon when I know that the art previously worked).  I also noticed that iTunes would randomly transfer this music over even when it already existed on the iPod and had not been changed.  I guess it thought something changed about the music file.  Anyway, after it transferred that music, I believe this is what corrupted the iPod.  Whatever was causing the artwork to disappear must have corrupted an iTunes file which was transferred to the iPod.

Fix

The fix for this issue, that I found by trial and error, was to completely delete the entire iTunes music library, podcast library and video library and reimport it.   So, I went to the ‘Music’ area and selected everything and pressed delete.  Of course, I used ‘Keep Files’ to keep them on the disk.  I also made sure to NOT use downloaded artwork on the reimported music as I believe the downloaded artwork database is what is getting corrupted.  I don’t know why the corruption happens and the guy at the Genius Bar had also never heard of this.. so much for their Genius.  He also offered to replace the iPod Touch just in case the hardware was bad, but I don’t think it is.

Arrgh.. Apple get your ACT together!

iTunes can be a hassle to deal with, as evidenced here.  Apple needs to take a long hard look at how this all works and fix these problems. One of the ways to fix this issue is to stop marking the unit as unrecognizable when the iTunesDB is corrupted.  Instead, they should simply delete the database and rebuild it.  Better yet, they should keep a copy of the iPod’s database on the computer for restoration.  Also, if Apple allowed multiple backups stored by date on the computer, it would be far simpler to roll back to a previously KNOWN working configuration.  Because of this lack of foresight of Apple and because of the simplistic backup system Apple has implemented, this leads to a complete timewaster in restoration by trial and error.

Since there is no real fix you can do to iTunes itself to manage these limitations, I recommend that you turn off automatic synchronization so you can manually sync the iPod yourself at the time of your choosing.  I should also mention that Apple decided to turn off visibility (through a drive letter) into the iTunes library files with the iPod Touch, so you can’t even use a third party utility.  I can’t imagine having to go through this restore process on a 60GB or larger iPod.  Having to go through it 5 times in 5 days because of iTunes is ludicrous and enough to make anyone want to get away from Apple as fast as possible.  Apple, you definitely need to figure out how to deal with this issue!

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