Friday, January 21, 2011

Apple, Making Friends As Usual

The genius of Apple's rise over the last decade has been its success in putting good technology (or even industry-changing, in the case of the iPhone) into unique, innovate boxes. The iMac line has always been interesting from a form-factor standpoint, from its colorful one-box hues, to the attractively spare desk-lamp model, to the current flatscreen design. The iPod and iPhone have also paved new ground for the design of the devices in their respective sectors.

A fundamental tenet of Apple's design philosophy, however, harkens back to Henry Ford. The old joke about the Model T was that you could get it in any colored you liked, as long as it was black. With Apple, you get everything you want in style and substance, as long as that is all you will ever want. The days of popping open the box to swap out memory chips, sound cards and hard drives ended when Apple began its iMac design aesthetic. Apple products are intentionally difficult to open and service, and replacement parts are not available in abundance. I have opened both my iMac and iPhone, but neither one was a particularly fun experience.

Now it turns out that Apple is turning the screws on shade tree mechanics even harder, as it were. New iPhones, or iPhones that are currently being serviced by Apple, are now assembled with screws that cannot be turned by consumers. Apple uses a screwhead design called a Pentalobe, for which there is no corresponding tool commercially available. iPhone owners will be unable to open their phones for any reason, whether to engage in mischief like changing the battery (horrors!) or to fix it.

It's about time to crack open my iPhone again to clear out the dust under the screen and devise a permanent solution to that problem. If the iPhone 4 were to collect dust under the screen the way my 3G does, and I were prevented from opening it to do the simple screen cleaning just because Apple doesn't want anyone else controlling the income stream for service, I would be mightily ticked.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Put Me In, Coach

After helping out with Kelly and Michael's soccer teams for a collective 12 years or so, and after playing the sport myself for six years as a kid, it makes perfect sense that my first foray into the official coaching ranks is in ... baseball, a sport I never played. Not only that, I managed to allow myself to be roped into coaching in the competitive baseball league. Just attending a coaches meeting a couple of weeks ago, there were a lot of sweatsuits on display. It is a congenial group, but make no mistake -- these guys are there to win.

The head coach I will be assisting was also Kelly's soccer coach from last season. We hit it off early on, I filled in for him in a couple of games, and Michael and his son became friends. He is new to town (but not the area in general) and has a way of getting to know people incredibly quickly. He responded to a call for additional coaches by asking me to coach with him. Knowing that he has coached baseball for years, after playing for years, I figured we would be in good shape on the coaching front, even though we would be at a distinct disadvantage in two ways: we don't know the kids as well as some of the other coaches (which could hurt us in the player draft), and neither of our kids are top players, which puts us immediately behind most of the other teams.

The coach is fearless and outgoing, so he already knows more people in my own social circle than I do, and is a genius at uncovering information about people. That will solve the player information problem. The player talent handicap will be partially alleviated by the way the league commissioner will set up the draft, in which the teams with the top "coaches' kids" will lose high draft picks.

Just like last year, we held a player evaluation day on Saturday, this time for the 98 kids signed up for the "Mustang" division. It was a cold, misty day that never rose much beyond 40 degrees. As we sat shivering in winter coats and gloves, the boys showed off their arms, speed, defense and hitting, as well as they could with numb hands and heavy, wet baseballs. We coaches did our best to assign quantitative assessments to each area for each player so that we can compile our draft lists. It's a little unnerving to judge players so young so starkly. For our team, we are also taking into account a variety of intangibles, including helpful or problematic parents, personality issues (our own kids get the right to request a few vetoes) and other subjective elements. My coaching partner has created a series of spreadsheets with data, adjustment factors, notes and various other proprietary elements that will ensure that we have a successful draft that will give us a championship team ...

Yeah, it's easy to get swept up in this stuff. Fortunately, most of the parents handle this reasonably. We all enjoy good games, but we also understand that we're trying to teach these boys how to play the sport and how to be good sportsmen. For his part, Michael is so happy that I will officially be his coach that he told me he doesn't care whether we win, he just knows we're going to have a great time.

Here is a highlight package of what the evaluation process looks like. (I tried but was unable to embed the video.) It helps to remember that we are still talking about little boys, even if some of them are amazingly capable at ten years old.

We picked the Cubs as our team name. Maybe taking the name of a perennially hopeful yet annually inept franchise wasn't the best idea, but our other choice was the Pirates, a laughingstock of a franchise for the last twenty years. If the characters of the professional franchises are to be imparted to ours, it has to be more satisfying to believe we have a shot and be disappointed than to know we will fail from the outset. Just to be safe, however, we will avoid any and all billy goats.

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Point To Ponder

Sage wisdom I ran across on the interwebz today:

“The problem with Internet quotations is that many are not genuine.”

– Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

RIP, Gerry Rafferty

Gerry Rafferty is dead at 63. Along with Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze," little else transports me back to the 1970s more quickly than Rafferty's "Baker Street" and "Right Down the Line." Both were great songs with strong lyrics and easy-on-the-ear grooves. It can't be said that he was cut down in the prime of life, but it is always sad to hear of the passing of someone who made a mark on the popular culture, if only because it reminds us of how old we are all getting.

Now I'm in the mood for one of those "Mellow Hits of the Seventies" Time-Life infomercials.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Santa's Work Is Never Done

Just because Christmas Eve is over doesn't mean there isn't some assembly required. Lots of assembly.

Sadly, You Get What You Pay For

Let's hope the real NASA puts more effort into its spacecraft that the maker of our spaceship-like cargo carrier. We went the budget route, buying a non-brand-name product from Sears. It looked good, but it proved to have some shortcomings.

For one, the mounting system was an inelegant system of flat metal plates and ordinary bolts rather than quick-release brackets designed for the purpose. More critically, the cheap plastic had all the torsional strength of a vinyl record. This proved to be a significant problem on our five hour drive on Christmas day.

Everything worked well for the first stint. As expected, the carrier cost us about 3 mpg, but it carried all of our luggage plus some additional items. The tradeoff was well worth the extra gas. After lunch, though, things started to go awry. I noticed that the car was suddenly very susceptible to the strong sidewinds we were facing; oddly, our fuel economy had also dropped substantially. I took a peek through the sunroof at the front edge of the carrier. The wind had pried the front of the carrier open by a full four inches. The whole thing hadn't opened, but the lock only latched the long side of the carrier, not the front. The force of the airflow acting on the soft plastic forced the leading edge wide open. The physics of the event were startling; examining the carrier later, I couldn't pull the cover as far open as the wind had.

Realizing that we had all the aerodynamic efficiency of a barn door, and fearing that we might lose our gear, I pulled over. The carrier returned to its original shape and we were not in danger of dropping our luggage, but there was no latch on the front and no way to prevent it from reopening. We spent the rest of the trip at a somewhat more relaxed pace, more in the interest of saving gas than holding onto our stuff, since we were going through gas at about a 40% higher rate and ran the risk of needing an unprecedented second gas stop. We were just lucky that there was no rain.

Before our return trip, I devised a crude but effective solution. Taking advantage of the overlapping lip that funnels the wind between the upper and lower halves of the carrier, I added a couple of chain links (which I'll probably switch out for carabiners eventually) through the front lip to keep the carrier closed. I also put some adhesive weatherstripping inside the front part of the carrier to keep out any rain that could slip through even when the carrier is closed.

The formerly swoopy cargo carrier now looks like the bepierced nose of a bookstore clerk, but now it works as intended.