Category Archives: Computers/Electronics

Overlord (2018) a (mildly) belated review

As I’ve made it plain many times before, it is difficult for me to find the free time nowadays to sit down and watch a film, much less go to theaters and catch the latest big or not-quite-so big release.

Instead, I make a note of what’s come out and, if I have the time, sneak films in whenever I possibly can.

One of last year’s releases, the World War 2/Horror hybrid Overlord, caught my attention but it wasn’t until now, weeks after its digital video release, that I’ve had a chance to sit down and watch it. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

The film sure looks like a live action version of the video game Wolfenstein, complete with similar font used in its title…

Related image

(A quick aside: I have very fond memories of the game that served as inspiration to this one, Castle Wolfenstein, originally released back in the early 1980’s. A friend at our High School had an Apple II computer and this game and we spent many a fun hour playing it, along with Ultima II! Here’s what that game looked like:

Image result for Castle Wolfenstein
Image result for Castle Wolfenstein
Related image

Yeah, we’ve come a very long way, graphic’s wise!)

Getting back to Overlord, the film begins promisingly enough. We are quite literally plopped right in the thick of things, with a group of paratroopers, among them our heroes, about to deploy behind enemy lines shortly –very shortly- before D-Day.

Things, as they are wont to do, go frightfully sideways as Nazi air flak rips through the plane. Our heroes jump into the fire, quite literally, and we follow Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a Haitian/African American paratrooper (yeah, the film plays more than a little fast and loose with Army integration circa 1944) as he barely makes it out of the plane and onto the ground.

Boyce and a group of three other survivors of the doomed flight get together and make their way to their target: A very small French village which has a church up the road from it in which the Nazis have taken over. The Nazis have a communications station in the church and it is this groups’ primary mission to wipe it out before daybreak and D-Day, when the communications array could harm the incoming troops.

So there we have it, the tense mission and tight deadline.

But wait, there’s more!

When the soldiers are within the village planning their moves, an added complication: There’s something else going on in that Nazi-held church, something that looks like a science experiment gone extremely wrong…

Overlord, as already mentioned, starts well enough and had me interested in where it was going despite some of the politically correct elements thrust upon the story in an effort to give us a more “diverse” cast of characters.

Unfortunately, as the movie progressed and our heroes were in the village, it felt like the movie’s creator’s had used up their deck of creative cards. Frankly, as the movie progressed it settled into a neither terribly bad nor terribly good “groove” and never got out of it.

Worse, the film’s actions became predictable. When the big bad Nazi showed up, you knew the heroes would do something about him. But when he got away, you just knew he’d become… well… I don’t want to get too spoilery but, suffice it to say, along with a general deflation, the film’s story beats became only too obvious.

In the end, Overlord was an “ok” film in my eyes. Visually, they nailed the look nicely and some of the gore effects were very well done.

But having said that, the film couldn’t build upon its opening act and, instead, coasted to an all too obvious -and never as exciting as it should have been- ending.

A shame.

Once again, regarding technology…

I’ve written many times before of my -I guess you could call it amusement- over the gnashing of the teeth of business/wall-street types toward the supposed “fall” of technological best sellers.

I recall the many articles released years ago -erroneously, IMHO- talking about how the desktop computer market might be “done”, when in reality what I felt was happening was that people simply weren’t buying new desktop computers at the same pace as before because the technology had plateaued.

In other words, in the past, ever year it seemed a far better desktop computer would be released, so much better than last year’s version that you were effectively encouraged to buy the next generation to “keep up” with the latest programs.

But there came a time, around when desktop computers sported the Pentium chips, that the technology had reached that plateau. Suddenly, instead of needing to buy a new computer every year, you could hang on to you “old” computer for many years before needing or wanting a “new” one.

So the time has come with Apple and their iPhone.

Will Oremus at Slate.com wrote this fascinating article which I encourage you guys to read:

Why the iPhone is finally fading

Mr. Oremus notes many of the things I’ve been saying for years now: That there was a time getting a “new” iPhone (in my case, talking about desktop computers) was a thrill. There was something new and magical about jumping from an 8088 processor to a 286, then 386, then 486, and finally Pentium computer.

So too was there magic in going from the early iPhones to the later models. People would stand in ridiculously long lines getting the latest model and reveling in being among the first to have the latest model.

But as with desktop computers, iPhones have plateaued. Perhaps it happened around the time the iPhone 6 was released. Its the model I still have and use. Its camera is pretty weak compared to the more modern iPhones, but otherwise its a perfectly functional cell phone and I suspect I’ll replace it only when it no longer works well with me.

Mr. Oremus goes on to theorize as to what “comes next”. He feels it may be machines like the Amazon Echo, AI machines that you talk to and get what you need from them.

I’m in agreement with him that these machines are certainly intriguing, even if they are also scary regarding privacy.

On the one hand its wonderful to ask the machine what the weather will be tomorrow and get your answer almost right away. Or ask it to play an album or song. Or, if you’re doing some timed task, tell it to set up a timer. If you have the proper devices, you can also have these machines linked to the lights in your home and, instead of stumbling around for a light switch, tell your device to turn on “X” light.

It’s fairly simple stuff -at least what I use it for- but a nice convenience.

But like the desktop computer and the iPhone before it, I suspect these devices will also have their ceiling.

And then we’ll wonder what’s next.

Called it…

…sorta.

From CNN.com and written by Seth Feigerman…

Apple has a problem it doesn’t want to talk about

At the risk of spoiling the entire article, it notes that Apple has decided to no longer report how many iPhones, Macs, and iPads they sell.

What used to be a great source of pride -and promotion- has become something they no longer want to talk about.

A BIG change in philosophy, to say the least.

A while back I noted, and re-noted, my experiences with the rise of the PC computer market (I did a search so you don’t have to, the full gamut of articles I’ve written about Apple and computers and their sales).

I noted how in the early going of the first desktop PCs, there was such a rush of new, better technology coming out seemingly every year that you were essentially forced to pick up the latest computer to keep up with the latest, and better, technology.  So the 8086 processors gave way to the 286s, then the 386s, then the 486s.  Then came the Pentiums, then the Pentium IIs, and so on and so forth.

However, while there was a HUGE difference between the 286, the 386, and the 486 processors, when the Pentiums came around, it felt like desktop computers hit something of a peak.

Instead of needing a new computer each year, I wound up working with my past computer well over 5 or so years before it started dying and I bought my latest desktop.  During that time, there were business articles wondering if the desktop PC was a thing of the past, while to my mind it certainly wasn’t.  I still use my desktop, quite a bit actually, its just that I’m in no hurry to run to a computer shop and get myself a new one.

So too I felt the time was coming with Apple and their various machines.  The fact of the matter is that each new iteration of the iPhone, for example, is not longer such a light years difference from the previous version.

There used to be heavy lines waiting for the next Apple iPhone and now, when a new phone is announced, it doesn’t engender nearly the amount of hysteria it did before.

Because, like those desktop PCs, the public no longer is as eager to replace their perfectly good previous generation (or, in my case, several generations old) iPhones.  Those “older” models are, to many perfectly good still and they don’t need the latest emoji updates or a better camera or a mildly better processor.

To counter the fact that sales are plateauing (or even going down), Apple essentially doesn’t want any such bad news released to the public and, frankly, I can’t blame them.

However, those in business will no doubt wonder, like they did with the desktop, whether the iPhone is “done”, stupidly not realizing that, again like the desktop PC, they have reached a point where consumers no longer need to buy a “new” machine each year and can wait one, two, three, or more years before making that heavy investment.

Sometimes, success simply damns you.

Maybe getting an Echo isn’t such a great idea after all…

Rachel Withers at Slate.com reports on how…

Alexa recorded a couple’s private conversation and sent it to a contact

The headline essentially gives the whole story away, but I’ll offer the following from the article itself:

A former smart-home enthusiast, named only as Danielle … and her husband recently received a call from her husband’s employee in Seattle, telling them to unplug their Echo immediately. The employee then went on to tell the couple that he had received recordings of their (mercifully) mundane chitchat—a conversation about hardwood floors, which Danielle and her husband had been having.

Yikes!

The big question for those who own one of these devices is: How exactly did this happen!?

When I read the article yesterday, there was no clear answer.  Apparently, one has now been offered by parent company Amazon:

Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like “Alexa.” Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a “send message” request. At which point, Alexa said out loud “To whom?” At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, “[contact name], right?” Alexa then interpreted background conversation as “right”. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.

Sounds like a lot of things had to go “right” for this screwy situation to happen.

I dunno.

Then again, the Echo is extremely popular -and has been since its release!- and this is the first time such a strange occurrence has happened.

Still, be careful what you say around your Echo!

Apple troubles…?

Interesting article by Seth Fiegerman and presented on CNN.com:

Apple faces Wall Street ‘panic’ over iPhone

The key line from the article is this one:

Apple stock fell this month after one of its key chip suppliers warned of “continued weak demand” (for the iPhone).

Which, of course, brings me back to something I’ve talked about several times:  The silly need for tech companies to look successful by selling “new” versions of their products when they get to the point that their current product is so good that people no longer need to make that upgrade.

Once again: I lived through the rise of the desktop/personal computer golden age.  We went from the 8086 processors to the 286 processors to the 386 to the 486 to the Pentiums and, for the most part, each new iteration was much, MUCH better than the previous one, and if you were into using your desktop computer, it made plenty of sense to toss the old version away and buy the newer one.

It was that good.

A very similar thing, IMHO, happened with the iPhone.  Each new version was a hell of a lot better in ways both large and small to the previous version.

But…

There came a point, perhaps with the 6th version or so, that the iPhone seemed to hit the same wall the desktop/personal computer folks did: The phone had reached something of a peak, and subsequent versions merely tweaked things here and there and the changed were nowhere near as “exciting” as previous changes.

Thus, people were suddenly not quite as eager to line up around the block (remember when that happened?) to get the latest version of the iPhone.

So when with much fanfare Apple releases their iPhone X, and its priced extremely high and its features are a little better than the previous phone yet people don’t feel this difference is worth pursuing, especially for $999, it shouldn’t be too big a surprise.

Yet that’s the stuff that makes people in the business community suddenly think a company is in “trouble”.

No, people probably still love their Apple iPhones.  The problem lies in the fact that the company has refined the product to the point where people don’t need to toss their last version to get a new one.

Facebook and internet culture…

Hard to believe, given today’s news, the situation regarding Facebook and, specifically, Cambridge Analytica and the way they -let’s be blunt here- weaponized personal data through Facebook. (You can read more about that here.  As for Cambridge Analytica, read about how its CEO was filmed talking about using bribes and sex “traps” here).

Here’s the thing: People are vulnerable.  People are willing to think the best of others, sometimes when they shouldn’t.  People are also suspicious but perhaps not suspicious enough depending on circumstances.

I recall a few years back when a new type of crime was being perpetrated: Criminals would go on Facebook and see when people there noted they were traveling/on vacation and would then go to the people’s homes and, upon verifying they were indeed not home, rob the place.

The fact that there are companies out there like Cambridge Analytica taking vast swaths of data (not illegally, it appears) and using it to sway people’s opinions and -at times- make them believe things which are not true is far, far more worrisome.

Perhaps I’m the naive one as I’ve always felt people would be suspicious about information being sent their way.  Nowadays, thanks to things like Fox News and, obviously, the information presented above, I’m far more worried that people can be pointed in directions by those clever enough to do the pointing.

If there is a silver lining to this particular black cloud, its that these systems are being revealed for what they are and, hopefully, parent companies like Facebook will be proactive in shutting down these people.

Now, if only someone would do the same to Fox “News”.

Apple iPhone X…

Over at slate.com Christina Bonnington wonders…

Is the iPhone X in trouble?

Ms. Bonnington notes that Apple has slashed orders for both the creation of new iPhone Xs as well as their components and speculation is building that the unit is simply not selling as well as Apple hoped it would.

Ms. Bonnington further wonders in the article whether the very steep $1000 price tag might have something to do with the lag in sales of the phone.

I wouldn’t be surprised, but I suspect other things are afoot as well.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sometimes an electronic product, be it a cell phone or computer or laptop or tablet, reaches a level where its about as good as its going to get.  Yeah, new models might come out and they may indeed feature some new/better things but at some point they become very incremental and small, to the point where people don’t feel the need to “upgrade” like they used to.

I’ve told this story far too many times before, but I distinctly recall the desktop PC rise, from processors that ran on the 8086 chip to the 286, 386, 486, Pentium, Pentium II, etc.

The difference between the 8086 processors and the 286 machines was like night and day.  Similarly, when the 386 machines came out they made the 286 machines look like they were in the stone age.  Similarly, the 486 made the 386 look weak.

By the time the Pentium models came out, though, the changes were much smaller.  Instead of seeing a brand new computer that clearly outpaced the one you currently had, you had a new computer system that was perhaps a little faster and a little nicer but not anything you had to get.

Thus, instead of considering buying a new computer system each year, I found myself going some 6 years with my Pentium machine before replacing it.  And I did so only because the computer I was using was starting to glitch and I need my desktop for the work I do and figured I should get a new system before my old one simply dies out.

With regard to cell phones, I fear they too are reaching that point.  There was, of course, a time when there was a strong and noticeable difference between one model and the next year’s model but, like the desktop computers, that isn’t quite as big a difference anymore.

Certainly one doesn’t need to upgrade to the current state-of-the-art model as before.

Especially when it’ll cost you some $1000.

Older Apple phones…

For a while now there’s been a suspicion among users of Apple phones that older models (ie, any model which isn’t the very latest one) are experiencing slow downs.

It produced one of those “dark” conspiracies that Apple was purposely doing this to people who had older models of their phones to essentially encourage them to spend their money on the latest models.

Apple outright denied this for a while, stating that if the phones are experiencing any lag in their processing it was due to other factors.  The phone’s processor was an older model and today there’s so much more processing that need be done.  Or perhaps it was related to the wireless services people were using, etc. etc.

Well, turns out the dark conspiracy wasn’t all that dark after all.  this article, by Ivana Kottasová and presented on CNN, pulls the curtains to reveal…

Apple: Yes we’re slowing down older iPhones

You know, as I sit here typing this line, I feel a sense of rage building in me that’s all too damn familiar.

I like Apple products.  I’ve noted this before.  I really like my iPad and use it quite a lot during the course of the day.  I love the Apple pencil and I love the artwork I can do on it.  I love the fact that I have my music available for me (I do not, however, use iTunes).  I love that I can see my films or read a ton of books I’ve purchased (again, none of this through Apple).

Further, I have an Apple iPhone 6 and I’ve had it for several years now and haven’t felt the need to upgrade at all.

Despite using these two Apple products, I’ve always been leery of the company.  As good as they are, under the reign of Steve Jobs I’ve always felt that there was a mentality of extreme capitalism at work within them.  Sure, they released some dynamite products, but there was always this claim that their products were so sophisticated and advanced and original which, of course, more often than not they weren’t.  Much of the functionality present in Apple products was created by other companies but, to Apple’s extreme credit, they managed to polish these products and make them just about as good as they could be.

But the Faustian bargain for those buying into the products is that you were expected to keep buying them, often being tempted only a year down the line with newer, better versions of something you already had.

I recall many years ago when the iPods were released and my daughters wanted them desperately.  I bought two of them for Christmas, the then lastest models, and my daughters were thrilled to death to get them.

But a month or so later and into the new year, it was announced a new version of iPods would be released and they, unlike the ones I just spent my hard earned money on, would have cameras on them to take pictures (natch) and which could also be used for video conferencing between people who had them.

I was livid.

As I said, I spent my hard earned money on a product Apple was at that time promoting the living hell out of when they knew full well that a better version of the same was about to be released.  They were essentially making suckers of their clients in the hopes of selling out whatever stock was left in their warehouses before it was discontinued.

But even before that, I was never impressed with their annual conference/sales pitch for their latest products.  In my eyes, it reduced Steve Jobs (who, until his death was the headliner) into essentially being a slick used car salesman.  Now, make no mistake: I was clearly in the minority here as many in the tech world and outside it tuned in eagerly to hear what was new.

Yet it felt to me like too much of a sales pitch and, thus, made me suspicious.

After Steve Jobs’ death, I wondered how Apple would survive.  Like or loath him, Jobs was Apple, and the success of the company was attributable -despite my personal reservations- to his hard work and salesmanship.

Today, it seems to me Apple as a company is either status quo or slipping slightly.  The technology they sell has reached something of a plateau and huge innovations (like that damned camera on the iPod) aren’t coming as fast as before.

Returning to the story linked to above, one can’t help but get angry at the idea that this massive, so damn profitable company may be resorting to tricks such as slowing older phone models down.  According to the article, Apple states that there is no nefarious reason for the slowdowns they initiated, that this has to do with the older lithium batteries that need to be treated differently or else the phone will shut off.  Or something…

Sure now.

If they’re so worried about how the lithium batteries function, why design a phone that doesn’t allow you to pull out and swap batteries?  I mean, if the battery is even the problem to begin with.

Because there are going to be a hell of a lot of people who are going to believe the slowdown is designed for one reason and one reason only: To get people frustrated with their older phones and make them want to spend money on the latest models.

In spite of my anger, truth be told I don’t see myself giving up my iPad at this moment, especially considering how new it is.  However, given the age of my phone, when the time comes and it needs to be replaced, and given articles like the one above, I’m going to think long and hard about whether I’ll replace my phone with another Apple iPhone.  In fact, at this moment I’d say the odds are low that I will bother with another iPhone.

And a few years down the line and when the time comes when I need to replace my tablet, there’s a good chance I’ll be looking around for alternatives there as well.

That is, if Apple continues down this particular road.

God only knows what its doing to our children’s brains…

Rather scary article written by Rob Price and found on businessinsider.com regarding ex-Facebook president Sean Parker and some rather scary things he has to say about our social media platforms like the one that he was president of:

Billionaire ex-Facebook President Sean Parker Unloads on Mark Zuckerberg and Admits He Helped Build a Monster

The “money” quote from the article is posted on the headline above, that Mr. Parker notes that these platforms were developed with the express idea of becoming addictive to its users.  This from Mr. Parker:

The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?

Not all that long ago I recall watching a TV program (60 Minutes?  I’m not certain) about cellphones and social media and it was noted by the person who was being interviewed that there is a science behind many of the programs, like Facebook, that draw masses of people to them, and that the model for drawing people to them is very similar to that of…

…wait for it…

Gambling.

Mr. Parker further states:

And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.  And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.

It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.

In other words, these platforms are built to not only get you on them with their various bells and whistles, but keep you on them once you’ve tasted their wares.

I have to say, like Mr. Parker I do wonder what effect this will have on people growing up with these services.

As someone who didn’t grow up with them, there have been plenty of times I’ve forgotten to take my cellphone with me to places and the biggest inconvenience, to me, is the fact that I subsequently couldn’t make a call from my car.

My daughters, on the other hand, have their cellphones essentially attached to them.  One day, one of them forgot to take it with her to a store.  It was, to her, an incredible, mind-blowing thing to have forgotten!

Here’s the thing, though: As the science of getting people essentially “addicted” to these various platforms becomes sharper and more effective, is it possible people will no longer be able to function, at all, without their cell phones and the social platform programs?

One wonders.

I suppose it shouldn’t be a big surprise…

But according to this article by Kaya Yurieff over at CNN.com…

Bill Gates just switched to an Android phone

As I said in the header, it shouldn’t be too big a surprise as Mr. Gates never seemed all that interested in pursuing Apple products.

Speaking as someone who owns an Apple iPhone (don’t know which generation it is, but I do know it is at least two generations “old” at this point and I don’t have a huge desire to upgrade) and iPad (if you’ve seen my Sketchin’ posts, you know I’m loving using the iPad 10.5 inch and Apple Pencil to create these images), I can appreciate the good Apple does but there is a part of me that remains uneasy with the whole enterprise.

While I appreciate the elegance of their products, there is this (for lack of a better word) greed that at least to me permeates their entire being.

I know, I know.

They’re an industry and they cater to their bottom line, just like all other tech companies.  What do you expect them to do, not want to make money?

Yeah, but Apple seems to take that to a larger degree.

While we see new models of Android phones come and go, Apple revels in their yearly new product “events”, where they pitch their latest products as “must” buys, even as they’re no doubt already at work on the next (and probably next after that) iteration of their “new” phone already.  And the changes from one product to the next haven’t been all that incredibly great of late, at least IMHO, and the whole thing feels more and more like a hard sell for something that you may neither want nor really need.

As I mentioned above, I have -and love– my new 10.5 inch iPad because it allows me to use the Apple Pencil and create wonderful artwork without having to deal with messy inks and pencils.

However, apart from this -and it obviously is a very big thing to me personally- I don’t see that much of a difference between that iPad and the one I owned before, which I believe was a second or third generation version.

Yes, the art stuff is fabulous, but if you’re not into doing artwork on your iPad, then there’s really no need to spend the $500+ -and that’s not counting the $100 for that Apple Pencil!- on a this new machine.

In fact, when I purchased the 10.5 inch iPad, I figured after checking it out I’d also upgrade my wife’s iPad as, like me, she’d also been using the same 2nd or 3rd generation machine as I was.

But when I got the new iPad, I realized that the art stuff was the only real reason to get the new machine.  Sure, the new machine also has a better camera and a few more bells and whistles, including a faster processor and a crisper monitor, but the difference isn’t so incredible as to merit the extra expense… especially if you’re happy with your iPad and you don’t really need to do art with that Apple Pencil.

So there you have it.

I own and enjoy certain Apple products, yet I’m skeptical of the company itself and their extreme (again, IMHO) ways of trying to get you to give them your money.

Ah well!