Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for April, 2008

My ongoing issues with MSFT Vista

Posted by shannonclark on April 27, 2008

I hate Vista.

Hate it. Since I have had my Lenovo ThinkPad with Vista my productivity has plummeted. By far this has been the most painful and worst computer owning experience of my lifetime. And I have owned a lot of computers in my time, run a ton of different versions of OSes and I’ve had some seriously bad machines in the past.

What makes this especially painful is that technically my laptop should not be bad, in fact it should be a near dream machine. A very high resolution tablet screen (1400 x 1050), the fantastic keyboard and trackpoint of Thinkpads (more on why I love the trackpoint later). I have 3GB of ram, a dual core Intel chip (not the fastest model but for my uses – mostly web browsing, iTunes, and light other apps should be more than plenty), and a 120GB HD. All in a form factor that weighs just a bit more than 5lbs and has a 9 cell battery that should give it 6+ hours of use.

But since I waste between 10 minutes to upwards of 1 hour whenever I try to wake the computer from sleep and resume my work, I don’t count this has a very useful computer.

It manages to blue screen itself while theoretically “sleeping”.

The wifi is unreliable after waking from sleep, not infrequently failing to detect even strong signals. (but yet reporting itself has functional so Vista just insists that it is seeing only weak signals)

At least every third time or so I wake my laptop from sleep it decides that my screen resolution is much lower and resets itself to a lower resolution, someimtes it does this after I login, often then quickly detecting the problem and reseting itself to the right resolution (but leaving my windows resized as a result). Occasionally it flubs things before I can even enter my fingerprint or password and I then have to try to reset the resolution – which can be tricky at times as it sometimes insists on a spinning cursor while I try to click on the “okay” button to confirm the resolution change.

I have reset my power management settings frequently. I set them how I want them (wifi when plugged in at maximum performance for example) yet a few weeks later they will have reset themselves to different settings without my intervention. Very very frustrating as then my laptop has started to seemingly randomly (and rather quickly) turn off my wifi card by itself.

I have given up on running Outlook on this computer as when I try to do anything in Outlook (latest version, fully patched) more times than not it just freezes and every step is complicated (all I would likely want to do is update my large contacts files which are still in Outlook) but even that seems impossible yet increasingly critical.

Shadow Backup means that overtime my disk has been filling up rapidly yet I can’t configure it to only autobackup the portions of my disk I would care deeply about restoring, and perhaps not to backup portions I would not care in the least about (my frequently changing firefox cache for example, or my also frequently changing iTunes directories for at least my podcast subscriptions which I typically delete after listening)

From a general UI perspective more times than not, generally at least once a day (sometimes many many more times than that) Vista just freezes, spinning my cursor and being generally annoying. And this is on a computer, I remind you, with 3gb of ram and a dual core processor. I’m sure if my laptop had a dedicated video card it might function slightly better, but that’s not an option and I (foolishly I guess) figured that Microsoft and Lenovo would have made sure that the drivers for ThinkPads worked flawlessly – and that the video drivers for Intel graphics would work well as well.

But I guess I was quite wrong about that.

Why I love the trackpoint and hate mice or touchpads

I am a touch typist. On a computer that can keep up with me (which I foolishly figured should be all modern computers but that’s not the case) I type close to 100 wpm or faster. More crucially I do that without ever looking at the keyboard, my hands just know where the keys are and I can type without looking, my eye remains focused on the screen or on materials I am working with, not on the keyboard or what my hands are doing.

With a trackpoint (that little nub that on ThinkPads is located on the keyboard between the G H B & N keys I can navigate and move my cursor all around the screen without moving my hands. All I need to do is shift my (right) first finger a bit to the left and with a bit of pressure can move the cursor anywhere I want it and I use my thumb to select the left or right buttons (I use the right mouse button features extensively)

In contrast to use a trackpad (such as is found on all MacBooks) I would have to physically move my hand, shifting considerably my focus from what I am doing, moving my hands and arms physically and breaking the rhythm of what I am doing (just now I used the mouse to correct the spelling of rhythm and could do so with almost no break in my typing, just a moment of attention to which suggestion was correct and a bit of pressure to move the cursor back to the right location). I do it without even thinking about it, it is just a natural motion incorporated into how I work today.

And even to use a physical mouse, such as the Mighty Mouse I have on my iMac desktop I have to move my hands off the keyboard and on the mouse. Then I am still usually very very frustrated by the significant efforts often needed. For whatever reason I find myself frequently having to physically pick up the mouse and move it up then pull back down and repeat to get the cursor and items on the screen where I need them. In contrast with a trackpoint I can just apply continual pressure and the cursor keeps moving in any given direction (ideal for scrolling through long lists, though a scroll wheel can be useful for that as well but sometimes a scroll wheel is not sufficient for a given task). Perhaps there are settings I could adjust that would make the mouse a bit more function for me (as it is I try to avoid it as much as possible) but that would not avoid the primary issue.

To use a mouse or a touchpad you have to move your hand from the keyboard.

There is not getting around that fact. The trackpoint is the only mouse alternative (at least that I’ve ever seen) which allows you to use it without needing to lift your arms or move them from the keyboard. In turn this means I can position my hands comfortably and leave them there even as I type extended amounts of text without pain (this blog post for example has been typed without my needing to move my hands at all).

If you are not (as perhaps most people are not) a touch typist this may not seem all that important. And if you don’t write 1000’s of words nearly every day (and I need to only keep on writing ever increasing amounts) then you might not see what a big deal this is, but I am a touch typist and I do probably average well north of 5000 words a day (often far more).

And in the next few weeks and months that will only increase as I have to write actively online to market myself and my new ad network, and as I write emails to follow up from the 100’s of people I have met in the past few weeks and who are in many cases prospective publishers, advertisers, investors or others with whom I may need to be in ongoing and active communication (press, potential employees and partners etc).

I am an old NeXT user, I would love to have a great Mac laptop. But the touchpad is seriously a dealbreaker for me it requires a very significant reduction in my workflow and productivity. And further my other issues are that the form factor I most like (the MacBook Air) has a lower resolution screen than my current laptop (lower res means less content on the screen, thus more scrolling, so more use of the touchpad and even lower productivity. I read 1000’s of words of content every day – 100’s of emails, blog posts, twitters and more. Plus the hard drive is smaller than my current one so incapable of holding my media library (and the cost for the SSD version is quite high and the disk space even lower). Thus I would need to use an external drive to hold my media library but with only one USB port I would also need to use a USB hub if I wanted to have my media library and my iPhone/iPod connected at the same time (i.e. so I could sync it). That means a bunch of devices I would have to carry with me, reducing the value of the thin form factor and light weight.

And the larger MacBook or MacBook Pro which are available in resolutions that are nearly as high as my current machine or in fact higher (on the largest versions of the MacBook Pro) are heavy (nearly 7lbs for the 17″), physically large, and do not have great battery life (less then 4 hrs by far). Though I would appreciate the screen resolution, I would not appreciate the lack of the trackpoint, and with a larger screen would be even more need to use the mouse. (and I am also not a huge fan of the single button, even knowing the multifinger tricks to get the right mouse button functions – I use that menu on a very very frequent basis perhaps 100 or more times in a day in many cases).

And though the keyboard on the pro does have the sexy illumination feature (though as a touch typist that isn’t so critical) it is not, in my opinion, a comfortable a keyboard to type on as the ThinkPad keyboards which I think are some of the best ever made in the world, at least for laptops. I type fast and quite accurately on ThinkPad keyboards (which I’ve been using for nearly 6+ years now).

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Posted in digital bedouin, geeks, mac, microsoft, personal, tablet pc | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Shopping for a Car part one, personal notes

Posted by shannonclark on April 5, 2008

This is a personal note about thinking about buying a car. In the next post (which may be posted elsewhere and I’ll then post a link to it from here I’ll analyze the current state of car shopping online in the US, which I will argue is pretty dreadful)

The last time I bought a car was Dec 1999, before buying I did a fairly significant amount of research online, though in the end I didn’t quite do enough, the deal I ended up signing was not particularly great and four years later when my car loan was due in full I calculated the value of my car at that time, how much I was actually using it, and decided to sell it and pay off the loan instead of buying it outright and keeping it. Probably the right move as I had almost not used the car at all, but at times I wonder. Though I went for a few more years where I really didn’t need a car, now I suspect I do really need to own a car again, far too often the lack of having a car is impeding me from real business (and personal) life matters – and no, ZipCar or CityCarShare are not alternatives for me.

First why both ZipCar and CityCarShare are not good options for me.

  1. My usage needs are almost never fixed or known in the future. I never know when I would want to return from someplace when I want to drive, in fact all I usually know is that I don’t know how late I’ll be staying. Mostly I don’t need a car for shopping (I don’t shop all that much at all) rather I would need a car for business events outside of San Francisco, or inside of SF but not nearby (currently it takes me 30-60 mins by public transportation and/or walking to get to many events, time I don’t always have)
  2. While ZipCar’s day rental is indeed an option, it is also a really huge and very new to my budget financial hit. $60/day for car, gas and insurance is I’ll admit a decent deal, but it is pretty painful as compared to typically spending ~$60/month or less on my entire transportation budget. For the month, not for a single day. I buy a $45/mth muni pass and most months may take an occasional taxi or use the BART or CalTrain (at most spending say $100 in a month of a lot of taxis and trains). The very rare exception is taxis to the airport, but even if I owned a car I’d probably still use a taxi to avoid parking fees as my typical trip is usually a week+ in length.
  3. My other likely usage of a car is long trips – driving down to LA, driving up to Wine Country, to Portland, driving to Half Moon Bay, to Monterey, to Santa Barbara. If I owned a car I’d like do such drives on a more regular basis, many weekends most likely in fact (though certainly having a girlfriend or at worst friends to join me on such trips would make that even more likely). This too is not a particularly good option for ZipCar or CityCarShare. I could, I guess, rent cars on a more regular basis (I haven’t rented one yet in 2+ years in SF) or experiment with using ZipCar’s multiday rentals for a few days at a time before I buy a car, that’s an option indeed, though only for shortish trips.
  4. The closest cars for both ZipCar and CityCarShare are a 10 minute or so walk from my house (about 1/2 mile or longer w/hills) That means it is far from spur of the moment, I can’t just walk out of the door and pick up the car, instead I have to reserve the car online (or over the phone I think) and then go there, drive back home if I need to load up the car with items from my house (which very often would be one reason I might need a car). In contrast if I buy a car I’ll likely also negotiate with my landlord for a parking space in my building – which also removes the issues of finding a parking space or dealing with street cleaning on weeks when I’m traveling.

So though I may cancel my CityCarShare account (haven’t used them in 6+ months so it is wasted money) and I may sign up with ZipCar in part to use them as an extended test drive service for the next month or two, I have decided that I almost certainly need to buy a car.

But how to buy a car? Car buying is a pretty horrible and painful process, at least it has always been so for me in the past, rife with scams, pushy salesmen (“used car salesman” is an insult for a reason) and countless issues whether you are buying a new car or an older used car.

A few of the issues I’m considering:

  • Technology inside of cars is more impacted by Moore’s Law. For many decades most of the technology in cars changed slowly with gradual but relatively minor changes. However increasingly cars are deeply computerized and technological, I suspect but don’t know for sure (going to research this) this has some pretty serious impacts in considering a used car. From whether or not mechanics will be able to maintain a car over time to whether even on a not all that old used car I’ll be able to use many modern tools (play my iPod on the car radio, have accurate and updated navigational systems, have a secure car from a locking/alarm standpoint)
  • My tastes and the car industry are clearly diverging. I hate blind spots in cars I drive, yet many “modern” cars seem to me at least to be minimizing the rear window and creating ever larger and more annoying blindspots due to roof framing and window/rear end shapes. Also many cars intended for younger, urban drivers such as myself (Scion for example) have for some bizarre to my eye reasons moved dials etc to the center of the car vs from in front of the driver. Many cars (starting with “new Beetle” from the late-90’s also now have to my eye vast expanses of space in front of the driver yet inside the car (you can literally put a large pizza box on the front dash of a Beetle) which is not a design I like at all.
  • My not owning a car is a statement of my green & environmental bent, but generally I don’t like most of todays hybrids. I hate driving the Prius, I don’t like the look, the controls, the feel of the seats, the blindspots, or the overall feel of the car, I haven’t been comfortable when I’ve driven it in the past (via City Carshare). I’m not much more of a fan of the look of most other hybrids on the market, certain Lexus models being a possible exception, but they are larger, bulkier, far more costly and not all that frugal of cars in any case. Especially given the performance of European sold cars today, I find the majority of US cars depressingly bad and behind the times (why we don’t have current generation diesels for example is something I really don’t understand – in Europe there are many which get 40-50+ mpg, with great performance and very very low emissions.)

Features I want in any car I buy in the future:

  • Flexible and ample storage. Two of my past three cars have been a hatchback (and yes, I realize for some bizarre to my mind reason hatchbacks are not popular in the US). I loved the flexibility of having a car that could easily convert to hold a lot of stuff, I didn’t use it all that often but I did my share of moving for myself and friends, here in SF I could easily see using a car with ample storage to take advantage of Craigslist, to help friends move, to throw even better dinner parties, to take trips to Napa and come back with some cases of wine, to perhaps go golfing for the first time in many years.
  • Great city (and highway) gas mileage. 20 mpg is not great neither is 25 mpg, I’m looking more for 30+ mpg ideally closer to 40 than 30. And yes, I know this is here in the US getting into the realm of seemingly impossible to buy, but if you look at the cars for sale in Europe they manage it (for cars larger than Smart cars in fact)
  • Fantastic handling and power when I need it. I am not a crazy or fast driver. But every car I have owned has had sports handling and more than ample power so when I needed it I could always accelerate more. Cars that went to 60 in very fast times (sub 7 secs I think though I’ll see if I can look up the details). Cars that could cruise comfortably at 80-90 mph and were perfectly happy to go much, much faster (my last Honda was happy to go up to 150+ though the fastest I ever took it was about 100 mph).
  • Not a manual transmission. I do not know how to drive stick. Nor am I interested in the least in learning. I do not want to think about driving when I’m driving – I much prefer to think about the road around me, I don’t want to have to monitor my car, revs, current gear etc. I simply do not care. Doesn’t interest me in the least. I’m not a car person – I want to get into the car and drive, under whatever conditions.
  • Extremely reliable. Did I mention I’m not a car person. I do not want to get to know my mechanic on a first name basis, I’d much rather own a car that requires only a minimal amount of regular services – oil changes, tire rotations, checkups occasionally but does not require lots of repairs and tweaking to get good, reliable service. And when or if I do need service, I want to drive a car that can be serviced wherever I happen to be most of the time – i.e .not something so obscure as to only have a handful of mechanics capable of servicing it as needed.
  • Value for my money. For my use a car is an expense, not an investment. I am not going to buying a collectible car or doing so much service and improvements to the car to render it capable of even holding even with what I pay for it, I fully expect nearly any car I buy to lose value as I own it, but my preference would be for a car (like all of my past cars) which holds a good portion of that value even after many years and miles. My last two Acuras even after I used them heavily held their value solidly, as did my Honda. Cars which tend to have solid and relatively stable used values for many, many years would be my preference over cars (such as many American models) that tend to crater quickly and don’t hold a great deal of value when they are much older – due to reliability issues etc.

My guess is that I am not going to be buying a new car (unless I close some amazing sales in the next few months – which is in fact a real possibility) but neither do I want to buy a beater and extremely cheap car (see above, I don’t want to spend my time with a mechanic). Instead I will probably plan on shopping for a lightly used car – a dealer’s demo model, a short term lease return, likely something which is just a year or two old so fairly modern and not yet completely out of date, but possibly with relatively high mileage for that age (my first car I bought for a deep discount because the last owner had put ~40k miles on it in one year).

But at this point I don’t have much of a clue as to what cars I should even start looking at – which models I should try to test drive and then watch out for as used car sales. Nor have I settled on a budget which I’m comfortable spending or once I have settled on that, researched what my CA car insurance rates would add, what my other CA fees (smog, license plates, parking space if my landlord charges me etc) plus estimated the gas costs then I will try to decide if I’m better off just biting the bullet and spending a lot with some combo of zipcar and car rental companies perhaps with taxis to get to the cars I’m renting.

Or if there is some other option I should consider – perhaps a very cheap car + zipcar. i.e. a cheap car with low insurance costs but some reason to also believe low maintenance costs but which might not meet all of my needs (might be smaller for example) and then use Zipcar for certain other uses.

Anyway it will be complex next few months as I research this.

Posted in advertising, economics, Entrepreneurship, personal, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »