Thursday 10 September 2015

Cellphones suck.

Yesterday was the Apple keynote at WWDC, and as usual they announced a number of new phones and devices. And  while there was nothing unexpected when they started talking about the pricing on the phones I just had to shake my head, not just for the fact that Apple is expecting people to pay 900$ (CAD) for the iPhone 6s for the base model, but for the fact that all the folks making smart phones are expecting people to be paying that much for a phone.

Now this is for a unlocked phone, and a lot of people will say that the phone is not that expensive because they will just get the provider to subsidize it when they renew their contract. Funny thing - the cell providers don't actually do you any favors with that subsidy. Take for example Fido, and the cheapest plan that you can get from them on the current iPhone 6.

iPhone 6 (Upfront Cost) - 349.00$
Monthly service cost - 80.00$/month
Service Cost (24 month) - 1920.00$
Total Paid (24 month) - 2269.00$

Now with Fido you can get the same plan, if you bring your own phone, for 40$ per month. So if I go out and buy a unlocked iPhone from Apple directly here's what I wind up paying:

iPhone 6 (Unlocked from Apple) - 769.00$
Monthly service cost - 40.00$/month
Service Cost (24 month) - 960.00$
Total Paid (24 month) - 1729.00$

Difference - 540.00$

So basically you wind up paying a extra 540$ for the privilege of getting a locked phone from your provider and getting stuck with their service for at least 2 years. And the kciker is that even if you wanted to pay the provider for the phone and get the cheaper plan they still want to charge you 839.00$ for the privilege of getting the phone from them. An extra 70$ out of your pocket just because they hand you the phone rather than getting from Apple directly.

This is a nice enough scam that Apple is getting into the financing game for the phones now. Right now it's only in the US but I can see it showing up here in Canada soon enough. Looking at the numbers they are only charging you 124$ US over buying it outright, and you wind up with the AppleCare warranty on the thing as well. Honestly if I was one of the existing carriers I don't know if I would be pissed off because Apple was taking a chunk of my cheddar by cutting into what I can make selling the phones, or happy because I don't have to carry the subsidy over the life of the customers contract.

And this cost is all for a 16gb base model phone. Yea, great value for the money there.

Friday 4 September 2015

Swithcing internet providers.

For several years I had been using broadband internet, TV, and phone service from one of my local providers, one that uses silly looking robots to advertise the services they sell. While things where good for the past few years over the last while the value of the services that I was getting, and how well they where working started to get to be less and less effective.

Then they sent a note over on my bill saying that they where going to push the price up 10$ per month on my internet service to pay for "network upgrades".

No sir, that dog won't hunt.

So I called up to complain, and explained that while the services where working I wasn't that pleased with the price I was paying for what I was getting and I was going to be looking at alternatives if they elected to continue with pushing through a price increase. After going back and forth I wound up getting a bunch of loyalty discounts, a upgrade to my internet speed, and a free whole home PVR rental for a year at no charge.

All was OK once things where installed, personally I didn't like the new PVR but since I don't really watch much (ok well any) TV it was not a huge issue for me, but then the internet upgrade fell back to what I was running previously, and I got notice of  *ANOTHER* price increase that would have taken affect this August.

No sir, I don't like it, don't like it one bit.

This time however when I called to complain about the price increase I was basically told to go screw myself. Not in that many words, but in essence the provider was unwilling to do anything to try to retain me as a customer. And with all the promotions ending I was looking at seeing the price that I was paying for the services jumping but about 50$ a month.

At this point I started looking into options.

Now in my neck of the woods we have baiscally two choices, the company I was with and one that features animals prominently in it's advertisment. Now the whole reason that I was with my current provier was due to some rather serious issues that i had with the other provider - bad enough that I refused to do any business with them for over five years. I infact actively moved services wherever I could over to other services even though they arguably had the better offerings in some cases.

Since it had been more than 5 years I decided that perhaps I would give them another look. In the past few years I had been introduced to some people that worked at the provider on the network side, and after talking to them I had a feeling that the service would have evolved enough over the past few years that I would no longer be having the type of problems that I was having the last time around. And when I talked to the sales people they where great about getting the services lined up and ready for us.

Aside from a small hiccup where I could not get the full speed that I was looking for (I was hoping for 50mb, but had to take 25 for the time being) the install was pretty smooth and the services are working much better than I had expected to have them work out of the box.

The entire situaiton however highlights how limited our options are for telecommunication services in Canada, we only really have three cellular providers who have networks that work across the country - Teuls, Rogers, and Bell. All the other providers are either owned by one of the larger providers (Koodo, Fido, Solo) or just rent network access from the big three providers (Presidents Choice, 711 Sepeak Out, Virgin). There are two that where looking like they might have been a bit disruptive but from what I have heard from others there's some pretty big issues with them.

Even when it looked like a larger player from the US was going to come into the market the big three basically freaked out and started a huge campaign basically saying that this big bad US company was going to come into the market and bankrupt the existing providers.  And while I can respect that the incumbent folks have a huge investment in the infrastructure they have put in place I would love to see someone get into this market and star disrupting things in favor of the customer for once.

Friday 26 June 2015

Grrr.... Dead computers all around me.

So, mother in law's computer died, now my wife's machine has bit the big one.

When she called saying that the computer was dead I was in the middle of the work day and was trying to figure out what was going on, but given that it was showing no signs of life I had to wait until getting home to find out. Sure enough, dead computer, no lights, no sound, just a brick. I pop the cover and get treated to this.

Yep, it's dead Jim.

That's a set of blown capacitors - without those the board is basically scrap at this point. And now my test / backup computer gets reformatted and put on the wife's desk while I figure out what needs to be done to fix this.

This highlights one of my big gripes with computers these days - that board is going to be difficult to repair, so it's probably going to wind up in the trash. Don't get me wrong I'll try to give it a shot at replacing the bad caps on the board, but it's not something that I've bothered to do in the past. And while I can get used parts to replace the board those used parts aren't as cheap as I would like - I was getting quoted 50$ or more just for a board - where I can get a replacement computer, with a warranty, for 200$ if I'm not picky on what the computer actually is.

For the 5$ worth of parts I'll be giving the repair a try, if I can get it going again then great, save some cash. If I don't it might make a nice wall hanging or something I guess, other than that it's off to someplace where it will be burnt in a fire by child labor to reclaim the shiny bits from it I guess.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Seriously Samsung, what the actual fuck?

So usually I don't get too riled up about things that hardware vendors do but this one is really getting under my skin, long and short of it is that Samsung has decided in their infinite wisdom to start turning off Windows Updates on their laptops.

The rationale behind this? Apparently they are worried that the wrong driver updates will get installed on the laptop and wind up disabling devices. Sorry, but does Samsung not get the Windows drivers for their devices into Windows Update? I mean isn't that the whole god dammed point of getting driver updates through Windows Update?

Most home users probably wouldn't notice that things where not coming through and updating device drivers leaving them with potential issues - or security vulnerabilities kicking around. And quite honestly I trust Microsoft to tell me what's required from a update standpoint more than I would trust Samsung (granted that's not saying much since I don't trust Microsoft that much to begin with).

There are details on what's going on posted here:

I'm not going to re-print the whole works but if you have a Samsung laptop you might want to give that a read and see what's going on. 

This and the problems with users finding SuperFish Malware installed on Lenovo laptops coming out of the box only serves to reinforce my thought that if you didn't install the OS yourself that you should not be trusting the PC. The first thing I do with any piece of hardware that's "mine" is to pave it and reinstall from a clean install DVD/USB device. Once that's done I'm a little more trusting of the machine, at least as much as I'm willing to trust a operating system that I didn't build from the ground up.

Update - apparently Samsung will push out a update that will fix this behavior - sorry, too little too late in my books.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Building your own computer. And why I will continue to do it.

I build my own comptuers, and while some people think that's a huge deal it's really not. I don't do it because I have some need for a computer that's super powerful that you can't get through a retail outlet I do it largely because I'm picky about the hardware going in and how it's configured.

My use of the home computer is a bit different than most people in that I spend a lot of time working with Virtual Machines and watching movies / videos on the machine. So as it stands I have the following needs;
  • Graphics Card that can drive more than two displays without issue.
  • Storage, lots and lots of storage.
  • Lots and lots of RAM.
The processor isn't as huge a deal for me these days as it used to be since even lower end chips run pretty well these days, but getting storage space is something of a issue in some cases. Running VM's on a desktop machine requires more than one disk. It's not even the size of the disk itself but more that you have more than one sitting there so that when your run multiple VM's things can respond quickly.

This generally dictates a number of things;
  • The motherboard needs enough SATA ports to run at least six disks.
  • The case that the computer is built in needs to have space for that many disks.
  • The power supply has to handle the load.
You can do this every easy with server hardware, but given the price difference between server class gear and desktop class gear I'd rather avoid spending the extra for the limited benefit that I would get from it.

The problem that I ran into last time was that the desktop machines that fit my needs where either rather high end workstation class hardware, or higher end gaming gear. The workstation class stuff is nice but the price is a deterrant. And while a higher end gaming system would work there's a lot of them out there that look just horrid, and I don't play enough games to get use out of something with a 500$ video card installed.

There are some exceptions in the business class of machines put out by Dell, Lenovo, and others, however the cases where limited as to what I could put in them and the Power Supplies would generally require being replaced almost out of the box. We do use a number of Dell workstations at work for similar purposes and adding more than two disks required me rigging the third disk in using adapters or duct tape - adding a fourth, fifth, and sixth - forget it.

So custom building my own saves me a large chunk of change, and I don't mind the work in doing so because it's a relaxing project for me in most cases. That being said my dad's last computer, my mother in laws last computer and probably my wife's next machines will be coming off the shelf of a local retailer because they simply don't care if it's hand built and I don't have time to spend handling the warranty issues (if any occur) that may take the computer offline.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Cheap computers, and why they don't always suck.

Generally I'm not a huge fan of cheap things. I like things that I purchase to last, preferably longer than I have any use for them.

A few weeks back my mother in law's computer died, and I wound up getting into a search for a replacement computer for her. Budget was a huge concern and what I wound up finding when searching for a cheap computer was that there were a lot of compromises in the way that machines where built that made me not a huge fan of a lot of what I was seeing.

One of the first machines that I looked into was the Intel NUC series of machines. There's something about a small compact quiet piece of hardware that does tickle my fancy, but looking at the price of building one made me very quickly realize that it's not something that would wind up being a cheap machine. The exceptions to the rule was the small HP Stream set of machines, those where cheap enough that they where in the 250-300$ price range that I was looking for, but to get a big enough hard disk and to update the memory to something usable I wasn't really saving that much if anything and the only thing I was getting was a smaller footprint.

Since size wasn't an issue I shelved the HP Stream and moved into looking at the Dells, Acers, and other full size desktop machines. In the end a compact desktop Dell was the winner, however even in this case the machine only had a single DIMM socket so updating the memory would be limited in the future and given that the machine is over 80% empty space I don't see why they wouldn't put a second socket in. The processor being soldered in and having no PCI / PCIe sockets won't be an issue in the future given what this machine will be used in but it does go to show how much they are cutting the costs on these machines.

In the end I'll continue to build my own desktop machines since my needs are a bit niche compared to a lot of users, but when I get around to getting a replacement for my wife's freshly dead computer (and reclaim my test machine) I will have to have a longer look at some of those little HP devices. Her needs are a little more advanced than the Mother in Law and since I don't want to be putting a laptop in as the family computer (given how kids treat them) those machines are starting to look more and more appealing.

Thursday 18 June 2015

On choosing a tablet.

Just recently I bought a new tablet, it's not my first one that I have had (either access to or one that I've owned) but it's the first time that I have spent my own money on one and while I'm happy with my purchase there's still I still don't feel that there's any one system that's really going to do everything that I want a tablet to do.

From a hardware standpoint I like the build quality of Apple's hardware. The metal bodies hold up well and the devices generally last a fairly long time if you take care of them,  however the gap has been closed in many respects by some of the higher end Android Devices. That quality however comes at a fairly large cost on all those premium devices, and I don't personally feel that the higher end iOS devices are that great a deal unless you are going to completely buy into Apple's ecosystem.

And while Android has a lot of options in the lower end of the market if you want something more mid range you are going to have to spend some time tracking down what you want, and quite frankly some of the cheap tablets that I've put hands on have horrid build quality overall.

And while the quality of the iOS stuff is good there are limitations. The first one is that you cannot add a SD card to it to expand the storage - so if you want to be able to save a lot of music or movies onto the device you pretty much have to shell out for one of the more expensive units with the larger disk storage on board. The second limitation, and the one that kills the iOS devices for me almost completely, is the locked in nature of the Apple ecosystem.

If you are going to just use the iPad as Apple intended and purchase all the apps that you need from the Apps store like a good little consumer then all will be good. In fact that's one of the reasons that I recommended a iPad for my mother - they are pretty dammed hard to break and at this point she's able to handle it without issue. I on the other hand wind up swapping data back and forth like a madman since my media library is large enough that there's no iOS device that can hold the entire thing, and doing that through iTunes is quite frankly a pain in the butt.

Android devices (and some of the newer Windows Tablets) have an advantage in this regard because I can simply put the media on a SD card and play it with whatever media player I see fit to use. That however leaves you having to deal with the Google play store (or Microsoft's one) and while the major apps that are in use are sitting around and work well on either platform there is occasionally something that I can't get on Android that I would really like (Bethesda, I'm looking at you). Add to that the number of questionable clones of apps and such sitting in Google's Play and it feels more like the wild west in there than it does in the iTunes store.

Granted that's probably more perception since you get bad apps past the Apple vetting process from time to time, but at least they make a show of trying to keep "objectionable" apps from the store. The classification of "objectionable" is a topic for another rant though.

In the end I did pick up a Galaxy Tab A 8.0. It's about as close to a iPad Mini running Android as I had seen anyplace else, and since it's mainly used for entertainment and consuming music the ability to just pitch a SD card at the device is going to make life much simpler for me since I have a huge pre-exixting library of media kicking around that I would still like to keep around without re-buying everything. There are enough reviews out there on the device that putting another one out there isn't going to be a huge help for most people since I would just be a re-hashing of information that's out there. I will say however that at the 250$ CAD price point that I got it at that it's a decent value and while it's not as well build as the aluminum iPad Mini it's still more that solid enough for anything that I feel I'll be throwing at it in the near future.

Saturday 6 June 2015

Is this thing on?

I have had blogs that I've been keeping up over the last few years and each time I keep coming to a point where I question if anybody is actually reading the thing. The last version of this blog was kept on a hosting provider that I happened to have kicking around, however when they required more money I figured that it was time to find something else to do.

We will see how long this one keeps online - at least I don't have to pay to keep this one online.