The new MacBook

I’ve been reading the specs on the recently announced Macbook.

It certainly is a very slick bit of technology.  Apple poured a lot of research into creating this ultra thin notebook.  Keyboard, display, batteries, motherboard, and the port list, all redesigned nearly from scratch.  About the only thing they didn’t redesign was the headphone jack.

 All this new technology didn’t come cheap either.  The low end one runs $1299.  Compare this to a 13″ Macbook Air with a comparable configuration .  The biggest difference is the MacBook’s Retina display, but the Air wins on battery life, processor, and ports (two USB 3, one Thunderbolt 2, power, SD, and a headphone jack).  Oh, and the Air weighs about a pound more.

 Apple does have a solution for their “all in one” USB-C port, in the way of a $80 dongle that provides a trio of ports (HDMI/USB 3/USB-C).  So now you can charge your macBook (via USB-C),  and attach a USB memory device at the same time.

 Personally I love the idea of USB-C, but I also like doing things in parallel.  This also brings Apple’s commitment to the Thunderbolt port into question.  A lot of third party manufacturers have sunk a lot of capital into Thunderbolt based devices, especially for secondary storage.

 My goto laptop is my 13″ MacBook Air, which I’m not planning on replacing anytime soon.  Ya, the batteries are on the downside of the curve, but Apple can replace those for approximately $150.  That is a lot cheaper than purchasing a new laptop I don’t need (I do the heavy computing and storage tasks on my home build Windows system).

 Of course the serious Apple fan nerds are going to buy a Macbook as soon as they are out.  My plan is to wait for the next rev.  I would like to see a next gen MacBook Pro with Macbook technology.  High end CPU, and a Thunderbolt and SD slot go with the USB-C and headphone jack.

 Disclaimer: I’m talking about serious Apple fan nerds, at least bigger ones than me.  I just have an iPhone 6 Plus, an iPad Air, and two MacBooks.

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Gear Update

I picked up an iPhone 6 Plus. Yes, the sucker is big, but it does fit in my pockets. Both pants and shirt. The bigger screen is nice. More real estate, better for view high res pictures and videos. The real plus of the larger size is the vastly improved battery life. This is due the all the extra space behind the screen being packed with a bigger battery. I can use Waze on the way to work, use the phone to check email and take notes all day, and then Waze on the way home. After all that, I still have a decent charge when I get home. It really is a big improvement over my iPhone 5.

The camera is also a big improvement. I typically use the Camera+ app for stills. I have it set to save giant TIF files. Gives you more data to work with in Lightroom, Pixelmator, or Picasa. The editing functions in Camera+ are also richer than the iOS defaults.

The perils of USB

USB has been great.  Connect anything to your system, it’s usually auto recognized, so it fits that useful category of “stuff that just works.”

Now Wired has pointed out that from a security standpoint, USB has some serious, fundamental flaws. In other words, you may be completely and utterly screwed.

It’s not just malware may be lurking on USB memory devices, perhaps even installed at the factory.  A couple of clever lads have figured out how to reprogram the flash that controls just about any USB device.   Which is pretty much like giving them the keys to the Kingdom.  Here are some of the scary highlights from the article.

“Because BadUSB resides not in the flash memory storage of USB devices, but in the firmware that controls their basic functions, the attack code can remain hidden long after the contents of the device’s memory would appear to the average user to be deleted.”

I’m waiting for the standalone device that reads and reflashes USB firmware to hit the IT market at an obscene profit margin.

Wait! It gets worse.

The problem isn’t limited to thumb drives. All manner of USB devices from keyboards and mice to smartphones have firmware that can be reprogrammed—in addition to USB memory sticks, Nohl and Lell say they’ve also tested their attack on an Android handset plugged into a PC. And once a BadUSB-infected device is connected to a computer, Nohl and Lell describe a grab bag of evil tricks it can play. It can, for example, replace software being installed with with a corrupted or backdoored version. It can even impersonate a USB keyboard to suddenly start typing commands. “It can do whatever you can do with a keyboard, which is basically everything a computer does,” says Nohl.

The malware can silently hijack internet traffic too, changing a computer’s DNS settings to siphon traffic to any servers it pleases. Or if the code is planted on a phone or another device with an internet connection, it can act as a man-in-the-middle, secretly spying on communications as it relays them from the victim’s machine.

So the new mantra is don’t let your keys or any USB device out of your sight.

 

 

DARPA looking for a shuttle replacement

With the shuttle retired and funding for the Orion killed back in 2009, the US is currently without a way to get people into space or a relatively cheap way to get payloads into orbit.

DARPA has apparently decided not to wait for NASA, and has called for commercial companies to propose candidates for their XS-1 space plane.

DARPA’s key technical goals for the XS-1 include flying 10 times in 10 days, flying to Mach 10+ at least once and launching a representative small payload to orbit. The program also seeks to reduce the cost of access to space for 3,000- to 5,000-pound payloads to less than $5 million per flight.

Having this capability will fill a hole in LEO access left by NASA policy and budget constraints.

Plenty of clean base electrical power can be had…

A pair of MIT trained nuclear scientists founded Transatomic Power.  They have developed a molten salt reactor that uses the nuclear waste produced by fresh water reactors for fuel.

Instead of wasting all that potential energy, we could being using to power these inherently safer reactors that don’t produce weapons grade nuclear material as a by product.

As Dr. Pournelle said, “…with what we spent in Iraq we could build nuclear power plants and space solar power satellites and tell the Arabs to drink their oil.”

The plants developed by Transatomic Power could deliver a steady supply of carbon free electricity that could power our industrial base, expanded use of electric cars, and provide light and heat to millions of Americans cheaply, reliably, and safely.

 

Springtime for nerds

It’s spring and the mind of the geek turns to new hardware releases.

The iWatch is still the hot rumor, but I wouldn’t expect that to even be announced until September.  That is when Apple will, probably, announce the iPhone 6, and iOS 8.
I’ve seen rumors that Apple will include a range of fitness tracking options in the much debated iWatch.  If they do, then they have a chance to pounce on the market hole created by FitBit recalling their Force device.   This also puts a lot of pressure of FitBit to come up with a Force replacement (with a functional wrist band) PDQ.  If they wait too long, and the iWatch rumors get stronger, they will loose market share to Apple’s vaporware.
On the Amazon front, they have discounted their Kindle devices.  Given that they had razor thin margins at best at the retail price, I’m taking the discounting as a sign they want to dump inventory.  Flushing the channels of the current inventory in preparation for new model Kindles in the pipeline. I expect them to announce these well in advance of Apple’s big announcement in September.  Big retail sale days for consumer electronics include Graduation and Father’s Day (Dad loves his gadgets).  If they can make those dates, that would make up for the loss from discounting the current Kindles.   They count on the downstream sales on those devices anyway.
For the Android fans out there, take heart.  The Google I/O show is slated for June.  The rumor mill is expecting the next flavor of Android to come out as well as some new hardware.  A new Nexus and some more wearables to go with Google Glass are expected.

Nifty gadget

Today’s gadget is brought to you by the phrase, “Simple is Good.”

The modern geek has lots of gear, and there are still plenty of wires and cables.

Power cables, data cables, audio cables, and the list just goes on.

Wire Ties are great for organizing, but not optimized for things like keeping your ear buds cables from forming the bundle of knots it wants to form. OK, they do a good job, but it is a pain to clip them loose every time you want to use them.

So every modern geek needs a roll of Velcro wire ties.

You can get a hundred of these ties for under $8 on Amazon. Free two day shipping if you are a Prime Member.

For smaller bits of cable, like ear buds, Micro USB, or Lighting cables, I cut the ties in half. I find them easier to put on and off at that length.

So go forth and tame the snake pits of cables that exist in your home theater setup, your monitors, and that pocket in your gear bag where you keep the umptyfratz cables you carry around because they could be useful.