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Apr. 14th, 2016

The Duntemann Ensmallening Continues

As I lugged box after box from our furnace room up All Those Stairs (people who have been to our Colorado house known of which I speak) it wasn't just the boxes that were heavy. These were boxes of computer books and magazines, and all of them went into our recycle can for next week's pickup. With each tip of a box into the recycle can, my heart grew heavier. These were not somebody else's DOS programming books. Uh-uh. These were copies of Degunking Windows, Degunking Your PC, Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses, Jeff Duntemann's Drive-By Wi-Fi Guide, and Assembly Language Step By Step, 2E (2000).

Lots of them.

When an author writes a book, the publisher typically sends him one or more boxes of books without charge. I've been a published tech book author since mid-1985. Do the math. Ok, sure, I no longer have box quantities of Complete Turbo Pascal. However, I do have the printed manuscript for Complete Turbo Pascal 2E (1986) in a monsteroso 3-ring binder. (See above.) The damned thing is 4" thick. That book was work. And if I recall (I no longer have it) the printed manuscript for Borland Pascal 7 From Square One was in two binders, each 3" thick. I also found the original submission manuscript for Pascal from Square One with Pascal/MT+, from mid-1984. That manuscript was sold, but the publisher prevailed upon me to rewrite it for another Pascal compiler whose name you'd know. (Alas, they changed the title on me. But they're dead, and I'm still alive, so I win. And there will be a Lazarus from Square One someday.) Do I keep these manuscripts? I still have the word processor files on disk, though I'm not entirely sure about the Pascal/MT+ ones. It's another ten or twelve pounds of paper, and I freely admit I haven't looked at either binder since we moved to Colorado in 2003. So I guess they have to go.

How heavy can your heart get before it collapses into a black (red?) hole?

I know a lot of you have been through one or more ensmallenings of your own, because you've told me. A couple of you have offered me your complete runs of PC Techniques/VDM. I already have five or six copies of all sixty issues. I'm keeping a full set. The others will feed the can as soon as I catch my breath enough to lug them up the stairs. (I'm not writing this entry because I have time on my hands...)

A lot of other odd stuff has come to light: My original Rio MP3 player, year unknown. A box of 3.5" floppies. My father's medium-format Graflex camera. My own trusty but now useless Nikon film SLR. What's to become of it? The Rio is scrap, as is Carol's final-generation APS film camera. My SLR is probably not worth much anymore. About my dad's Graflex I have no idea. I'll probably keep them both for the time being. A great deal of other stuff is going out on the curb. The concrete people are replacing the garage slab on May 4, and the garage has to be dead-empty by then. What needs to be kept from the garage collection has to come down to the furnace room, which means gobloads of other stuff must exit the furnace room first, and forever.

Man, this is work. And work at 6600 feet, at that.

You've heard me say this before, though I've forgotten who said it originally: Not everything from your past belongs in your future. Keep everything that reminds you of your past, and you end up turning into a museum that only you ever enter...

...if you ever actually do.

Time's up. Another load or six needs to go up the stairs. They say it gets easier after the first twenty loads. I guess I'll find out.

Apr. 12th, 2016

A Grand Ride North, and a New Grand Champion

Dash Jeff Carol Tarryall 2016-cropped-500w.jpg

We're back in Colorado Springs, and sooner than we thought, too. A day came early last week when we realized that we had pretty much gotten everything done that we expected to while wintering over. Furthermore, there was a big dog show in Denver on April 9-10. Dash's coat was in pretty good shape. The weather forecast looked marvelous throughout the West. (Sorry about the East Coast, guys.) So we looked at each other, nodded, and started throwing things into the Durango.

It's 835 miles, all of it Interstate, and we've done it many times by now. We did well enough to stop for an afternoon in Albuquerque, to visit with a friend of ours who has Dash's brother, Charlie. As we had all four of the Pack with us, and Sherry has two Bichons of her own (both boys) it turned into a backyard Bichon party very quickly. There was much running around and squirting-of-things, which is all any (male) Bichon would ask of a party. Everybody slept really well that night, not least of whom were the two of us.

We got into the Springs Thursday night, turned on the water, and got a decent night's sleep. We dropped everybody but Dash off at Gramdma Jimi's the next morning, and headed up to Denver for the show. Most of our Bichon Club friends were there, and nine Bichons were entered. Dash won Best of Breed for the Owner Handled category both days. This meant that he would represent the breed in the Group competition. As its name implies, the Non-Sporting Group is a kind of none-of-the-above category containing breeds including the Poodle, Shiba Inu, Dalmatian, Boston Terrier, Keeshond, and others that aren't good fits in any of the other groups. I've often wondered why the Dalmatian isn't in the Working Group, and why the Boston Terrier--sheesh--isn't in the Terrier Group. Doubtless there are historical issues, all of which have long been forgotten.

No matter. Dash looked about as good as he ever does, thanks to a foot bath and a great deal of fussing by Carol. On Saturday he took Third Place in the Non-Sporting Group for owner/handled dogs, and on Sunday he took Second Place, ditto. We took home two very fancy ribbons, and--more important--a large number of points. Dash won 45 owner-handled points at the show, which gives him 225 owner-handled points overall. This makes him the #2 owner-handled Bichon in the country right now. Given that the #1 Bichon has only 350 owner-handled points, it's actually a contest. (The photo above is by Patrina Walters Odette, and used with permission. Thanks, Patrina!)

But more than that, the additional points make Dash a Grand Champion. Championships in dog showing are a little like dans in karate: There is an ascending hierarchy of championships, based on an entirely different tally of Grand Championship points. Dash made Champion a couple of years ago. The Phoenix Project slowed us down; there wasn't a lot of showing going on in 2015. However, Dash has done so well in the few shows we've entered that he accumulated 25 Grand Championship points and took Grand Champion this past weekend. The next step is Bronze Grand Championship, which requires 100 Grand Championship Points. This is four times what Dash has now, but we may give it a shot. Beyond that are Silver Grand Championship (200 points), Gold Grand Championship (400 points) and Platinum Grand Championship (800 points.) Whew. That's a whole lotta brushing, on both Dash's and Carol's ends of the brush. Let's see how life unfolds for the next couple of years.

And unfolding it is. We now have the task of getting the Colorado house ready to sell. This means sifting, sorting, selling and/or giving away a lot of stuff, and shipping the rest down to Phoenix. It was necessary (if maybe a little unnerving) to dump two boxes of my books into the recycle bin. I have a couple of pristine copies of Degunking Your PC and Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses...do I need a whole publisher's box of both? It's going to be harder with my assembly book and my Wi-Fi book, but downsizing means...cutting down the size of your stuff. As people who have been here know, we have a lot of stuff.

So the downsizing continues. More as it happens. Anybody want some plywood?

Apr. 1st, 2016

Odd Lots

Mar. 29th, 2016

Respect and the Hyphenation of God

My father was big on respect. We were taught to say "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am" and much else that cooked down, for the most part, to respect. He understood the culture as it existed in 1960, and I was warned strongly not to speak slurs against people for what they were, especially Jews and blacks. If he had known how hatefully anti-semitic our universities would become by 2010, he would probably have apprenticed me out to a tool and die maker.

We were taught flag etiquette in Boy Scouts. We genuflected before we got into the pews at church. (I once genuflected before going into a row of seats at the Pickwick theater, so thoroughly soaked into my bones had the gesture become.) I was taught that girls were not casual entertainment, but potential friends and colleagues, and ultimately, spouses. Like I said, respect was a very big deal.

So it puzzles me sometimes when people write "G-d" instead of "God," especially non-Jews. I understand, perhaps imperfectly, the Jewish traditions regarding the name of God, which, when written down, should not be burned or thrown in the trash, but buried in hallowed ground. God's name is holy and must be respected. I get that.

But..."God" is not the name of God.

When Moses met God on the mountain and asked Him what his name was, God replied with what we today call the Tetragrammaton, approximated by YHWH in English characters, usually spoken as 'Yahweh" when spoken at all. Given that this translates (roughly) to "I am that I am," I think what God was telling Moses was, "I exist in and of myself, and that's all you really need to know." In the pre-Mosaic animist traditions, to know the true name of an entity was to have a certain amount of control over it, and that's how shamans and magicians earned their keep, by commanding spirits/angels/demigods/demons to either deliver favors or keep their distance. The Hebrew God was beyond commanding. A great deal of the early part of the Old Testament can be seen as the transition between primordial animism and genuine monotheism. Given that names are how we tell similar things apart, a truly singular and infinite God would not in fact need a name at all. But to the extent that God has given us His name (and "Yahweh" is pretty much it) we need to respect it.

All that said, we need a way to address God, because God is our Creator and immanent, not off behind the clouds somewhere that He can't hear us. "God" works well in that capacity, because it isn't a name but a respectful and singular title, as befits a singular God. I think it's fair to compare the title "God" to the word "Sir" as my sister and I were taught to use it: as a respectful form of address. The respect is built in. So I'm not sure I see how saying "S-r" is any more respectful than "Sir," given that "Sir" was established specifically as a respectful form of address.

We could argue about that all night and halfway to lunchtime; why not use the word "Lord" or "Father" instead of "God"? Some do. On the other hand, there are many lords and many fathers, but only one God. As I see it, to blot out part of the word pushes the idea of God away from us in the here and now, away from the immanent toward the abstract. Push it far enough in the cause of respect, and the idea of an immanent and transcendant God vanishes over a sort of epistemological horizon, beyond which God ceases to be graspable by His creation. After that, what's left but human lords and lesser gods?

I don't want anybody to misunderstand here: This isn't me chewing out people who choose to use the term "G-d". I respect their choices, and if it makes sense to them, so be it. It just doesn't make sense to me.

I have a plaque immediately above my desk, presenting an epigram from Erasmus in bold Roman letters:

BIDDEN OR NOT BIDDEN, GOD IS PRESENT.

Jung had the same epigram, in Latin, over his front door. (I have that plaque too.) It simply means that we don't have to whistle God up from somewhere else. He's always here, no matter what. We mean Him no disrespect to recognize that, with a word custom-made for the purpose, standing intact, graspable, and ready for us when we need Him most.

Mar. 15th, 2016

Odd Lots

SP4 Mug 500 Wide.jpg

Mar. 13th, 2016

LED Bulbs, RF Noise, and a Crazy Idea

Carol and I were in Costco last week, stocking up on consumables (everything from toilet paper to Hoody's Peanuts) when we spotted something that made me do a double-take: a package of four Feit LED dimmable 60W equivalent light bulbs for $10. I've never seen them for less than twice that. We grabbed a pack to try at home, because our new house here contains a lot of 60W bulbs.

How much of a lot? There are nine Hampton Bay ceiling fan/lamp fixtures, each holding three 60W bulbs. (We found later that the fixture over the dining room table had three 75s in it.) That's 27 bulbs right there, plus another twelve or fifteen in bathrooms and outside light fixtures. Figuring 40 60W bulbs, that's 2,400 watts. Granted, not all of them are on at once, and several fixtures (like the one in the guest room and the two outside on the patio) are rarely on at all. However, there are another eighteen 65W ceiling floods, so I'm guessing our typical evening use is about 2,500 watts overall. It adds up. If bulbs are now as cheap as Costco was offering them, I was ready to jump.

A sidenote: There was some sort of utility company instant rebate, so the register price was about 1/3 less than the package price. Outside the Phoenix area, your prices may (and almost certainly will) vary.

This being Arizona, there was a thick layer of brown dust (over and above the dead bugs) on the lamp globes and on the existing bulbs themselves. We ran three loads of lamp globes through the dishwasher because their spatter finish tears threads off the ScotchBrite pad by the sink. I put three bulbs in the fixture in Carol's office, then stood back to gauge the quality of the light.

Marvelous! Three $2.50 LED bulbs gave brighter and slightly whiter light for a total power draw of 28.5 watts. We went back to Costco and bought 24 more, plus a test pack of 65W equivalent LED ceiling floods. I spent a day on a ladder swapping out bulbs, and although the ceiling floods aren't all done yet, we're looking to cut our lighting power draw to 1/6 of what it would be on incandescents.

This isn't all about money. It gets hot in Phoenix in the summer (duhh!) and the heat that you pay for when you light your bulbs you then have to pay to pump out of your house with the AC. Ok, so maybe it is all about money. In some respects, LED bulbs are a twofer.

Now, there's a downside. Both CFL and LED bulbs require power at entirely different voltages than incandescent lamps. Every bulb has a little power supply in it, and to keep the power supply circuitry small, the supply uses a technology that generates a lot of RF noise. If the whole house is running LED bulbs, I'm guessing that my IC736 will deliver audio that sounds like the center of a raging thunderstorm, only 24/7. I don't have my shack wired up yet, but it'll be interesting to see what happens when I run a temporary longwire out to the pool shed later this year.

Now, it won't happen this year and perhaps not next year, but the 5-year plan includes a new building in the NW corner of our 5/8 acre lot to house my workshop and radio shack. (I'm using the small garage for now, and although I was clever and got everything in, it's...cramped.) I'm sure I'll hear our LED bulb symphony (and perhaps the neighbors') but if I don't use LEDs or CFLs in the shack, things may be a lot better.

So...what are the chances of opening up the bulbs, pulling out or bypassing the power supplies, and running them at the LEDs' native voltage? This isn't an idea original with me, and in fact one chap has a very nice article up on Instructables. The 40W bulb he dissected delivers 30VDC to its LED array, and he had to do some major surgery to rewire the array to take 12VDC instead. My approach would be to figure out what DC voltage a given type of bulb generates for its LEDs, and then build a high-current passive (i.e., non-switching) power supply to deliver exactly that voltage to all the modded bulbs in the building. (Note that there's nothing magical or standard about his 30V figure. That's just what the maufacturer happened to use in that particular model of bulb.) This would require running a separate 30VDC (or whatever) power network inside the workshop building, but since it's going to be a custom building, I can do that.

We're not nearly done with the house and landscaping here yet, and I won't have a great deal of loose time until the summer. (We still have work to do on our Colorado house before we sell it.) I'll start a research binder on LED bulbs in the meantime, and maybe allow myself a few hours at some point to pull a cheap bulb apart to see what its LEDs are eating. If any of you have played around with LED bulb internals, (or have come across any pertinent links) by all means share in the comments. I have a hunch that a lot of very clever guys are pondering this problem right now, and I'm looking forward to hacking the hardware myself. I haven't done much building in the last couple of years for various reasons, and damn, I miss it!

Mar. 11th, 2016

Using GWX Control Panel to Lock Out Pesky Windows 10 Upgrade Stuff

A few days ago, a countdown timer appeared on Carol's Win7 PC when she booted up. It told her that Windows 10 would be installed in two hours.

WTUBF?

I turned off the machine and started digging around online. A lot of people have this problem, apparently. All of us who aren't already running Win10, of course, have been nagged mercilessly about upgrading since last summer. I don't care if it's free. I don't want it now. If I want it later I'll pay for it. But just so you know, I don't plan to leave Win7 land before 2020. I dislike the nags, but nags are just nags. This time MS told me they were going to give me something I didn't want and hadn't asked for.

Uh-uh.

So. I quickly learned that the upgrade software is contained in a Windows update module called KB3035583. I turned Carol's machine on and as soon as I could I uninstalled KB3035583. That ended the spy-movie countdown timer. Alas, the next morning the damned thing was back. The countdown timer now said Thursday, (it was Tuesday morning) which was some comfort. I still had some time to work.

I hid KB3035583. The next morning, someone (guess!) had un-hid it. Ok. This means war. I dug around a lot deeper, and found an enormous amount of cussing and bitching and suggested fixes. I tried a couple of things with mixed success. Then I stumbled upon the GWX Control Panel, by Josh Mayfield of the Ultimate Outsider site. Josh initially released it late last summer, and has been updating it periodically ever since. Josh's instructions are pretty good, but for something a little clearer, take a look at Mauro Huculak's article on Windows Central. He did a good job, which I know because I followed his instructions when installing GWX Control Panel on my lab machine. I had no issues, and understanding that MS was about to start messing with my wife's PC, I installed it on her machine as well.

Like Philip Phillips says, Gone Gone Gone. We've not even seen the nag window since Thursday, much less the countdown timer. I quickly added GWX Control Panel to all of our other Win7 machines. Worked every time.

Now, why did Carol's machine say it was about to install Win10, while our several others just kept nagging? We don't know how, but Carol's PC thought that somebody had reserved a copy of Win10. The download manager in KB3035583 had already downloaded well over a gigabyte of stuff, which I assume was all the install machinery and the OS itself. Carol doesn't remember clicking on anything, nor do I. It's possible that one or us selected something by mistake. MS seems to be increasingly desperate to get as many people as possible to upgrade, and its popups offer no clean way out.

Ironically, I vaguely remember reserving a copy from my lab machine way back when this business first came up. The lab machine did not have the install files and was not giving me a countdown timer. My only theory is that Carol's PC may now be using the local IP address that my lab machine was using way back when I (may have) reserved a copy, even though that was in Colorado. It's kind of crazy, but I have no better ideas.

I don't have anything strong against Windows 10. I know a lot of people who like it just fine. I will probably use it eventually--once it has several years of history behind it. However, as most of you know, I do not like to be pushed. That's the heart and soul of being a contrarian. The harder you push me, the more likely I am to go in the opposite direction.

All the usual cautions apply to GWX Control Panel. Do a full backup and a restore point before you install it, just as you would with any new software. Follow the directions closely, and do your best to understand what you're doing. We've had no adverse issues with it, granted that I installed it yesterday. If anything changes tomorrow morning, well, you'll read about it here.

Mar. 9th, 2016

The Raspberry Pi 3 leaps into our laps

RPi3-500 Wide.jpg

On February 29, Eben Upton announced that the Raspberry Pi was four years old, and to celebrate, the Raspberry Pi Foundation had released the Raspberry Pi 3. I grinned a little: The RPi is a Leap Year baby, and so it might conceivably be considered one year old, since we haven't had another February 29 since its initial release in 2012.

The new board (still out of stock, just checked) is almost identical in physical size and shape to the Raspberry Pi 2, and should be able to bolt into any sort of case or mount designed for the 2. That said, the new board packs a lot more horsepower:

  • A new SoC: the Broadcom BCM2837
  • A 1.2 GHz 64-bit quadcore RM Cortex A53 CPU.
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 right on the board.
  • A VideoCore IV graphics system running at 400 MHz, with the 3D core running at 300 MHz.

Most of the other specs match the RPi 2: 1 GB RAM, HDMI video capable of 1080p at 30 fps, four USB ports, a 1000BASE-T Ethernet port, composite video, and the same GPIO bus.

And still $35.

Many years ago, I think back in the VDM era, I predicted that computers would eventually become swellings along the wire between the keyboard and the screen. We're well along toward that day, but with Bluetooth on the board, there won't be a wire between the keyboard and the screen at all. In fact, there's no reason not to just bolt the computer to the back of a TV or monitor using the VESA mount holes. That's what I did with my RPi 2, and I'll use the same mount for the RPi 3, whenever it shows up. It'll basically become part of the TV, and it'll talk right to my Logitech Bluetooth keyboard/mouse.

I had another thought about mounts for the Pi: Most Dell monitors from the last ten or twelve years have a tab-mount system for amplified stereo speakers built into a bar beneath the lower edge of the screen. The bars are cheap on eBay (look for Dell part #AS501, though there may be other SKUs that snap into those same tabs) and I'm tempted to cut one open and see if I could "persuade" the bar to accept an RPi 3 board, or at least mount a board on the back of one. If I had a 3-D printer I would sketch up a snap-in Dell monitor RPi mount designed for those tabs.

One thing that many have said about the RPi 3 is that it finally has the chops to be a general purpose desktop computer. Granted, you can run a fair number of GUI productivity apps under Raspbian--and MagPi magazine lays the mag out on an RPi (using Scribus) and has done so since inception. I managed to get the Lazarus IDE installed and runing on the original Model B, though it was very sluggish and had to be installed from binary packages. Having 1 GB of memory makes many things possible, especially recompiling open-source apps for the ARM Cortex CPU. Libre Office already runs on the RPi, as do GIMP and Scribus, if slowly. (I tried both, and while they were usable, I'm kind of spoiled by 5+ years of using a quadcore Intel box.)

So what will I do with the board when I finally get one? First of all, it will replace the Pi 2 I have bolted to the back of a 23" Toshiba widescreen TV. As I did with the Pi 2, I'll install Libre Office and several other productivity and graphics apps, just to see how much faster they run.

But most eagerly, I'll be installing Lazarus 1.6. I haven't done a lot of programming over the past year because, well, I've been moving us to Phoenix. I miss it. As I've said here perhaps too often, Lazarus has made programming fun again. Sorry, C/C++ is drudgery, and Python makes whitespace significant, sheesh. (I do like TkInter.) Lazarus on the RPi 2 is nowhere near as sprightly as Lazarus on my Intel quadcore. The Pi 3 can't help but be better.

I'm strongly tempted to continue the (suspended) adaptation of my book Borland Pascal 7 From Square One for Lazarus/FreePascal, because students should be aware that C and Python are not the only damned programming languages in the world. I don't know of anything in Lazarus' class for C/C++ nor in truth any other reasonable language. There are supposedly 8 million RPi boards in the world now. 8 million. That's one helluva potential audience.

On the other hand, if I don't get some traction on a new novel pretty soon, Certain People are going to skin me.

I thought I was retired. I thought retired people were bored. I recall being bored for half an hour once, in (I think) 1967. Whatever the opposite of bored is, I am. The Raspberry Pi 3 isn't going to help with that.

Feb. 18th, 2016

Odd Lots

  • Lazarus 1.6 has been released. It was built with FreePascal 3.0.0, a first for Lazarus. Mostly incremental changes, but there's a new rev of the docked form editor that looks promising, even though it's not quite stable yet. Wish I had more time to play with it!
  • Older versions of Lazarus have run well on the Raspberry Pi for me. However, installation on the newer Raspberry Pi 2 is much trickier. This installation tutorial is almost a year old, and I haven't yet installed Lazarus 1.4 or 1.6 on my Pi 2, but it's the best how-to I've yet seen.
  • From Glenn Reynolds: Indie author Chris Nuttall lays out his journey as an indie, emphasizing that all but the biggest names are being driven to indie by publishers who simply don't understand which way the wind is blowing. Read The Whole Thing, as Glenn says.
  • Back when I reviewed the Baofeng handhelds, there was some discussion in the comments about the RDA-1846S SDR chip. Gary Frerking pointed me to the HamShield project on Kickstarter, which is an Arduino add-on board (a shield, in their jargon) that uses the RDA-1846S to transceive on 2M, 220 MHz, and 450 MHz. Like the Baofeng radios, HamShield will also operate on FRS, MURS, and GMRS, though the group doesn't say that explicitly. (This is an SDR, after all.) It's not shipping yet, but they've raised a fair amount of money (well over $100,000) and appear to be making progress. Definitely one to watch.
  • Cool radio stuff is in the wind these days. One of Esther Schindler's Facebook posts led me to Beartooth, which is an SDR roughly similar to HamShield built into a smartphone battery case that snaps onto the back of your phone. Unlike HamShield, beartooth is going for FCC type acceptance and will operate on MURS. However, there's been no activity on their Web site since mid-December and I wonder if they're still in business. It's not an easy hack; see this discussion from midlate 2014.
  • Oh, and I remembered GoTenna, which is similar to Beartooth except that it's limited to texts and geolocation data. (That is, no voice.) It's a Bluetooth-powered stick that hangs on your belt and uses your smartphone as a UI, basically, and allows you to text your hiking buddies while you're out beyond the range of cell networks. I guess that makes it a sort of HT...a Hikey-Textie. Unlike HamShield and Beartooth, GoTenna is shipping and you can get two for $300.
  • Twitter continues to kill itself slowly by shadowbanning users for political reasons. What the hell is in it for them? When they collapse, something else will appear to take their place. They're a tool. (Take it any or every way you want.) When a tool breaks, I get another tool, and generally a better one.
  • In case you've never heard of shadowbanning...
  • I stumbled on something called Roblox, which is evidently a high(er) res take on the Minecraft concept. It's looking more and more like what I was thinking about when I wrote my "RAD Mars" piece for the last issue of Visual Developer Magazine in late 1999. Anybody here use it? Any reactions?
  • Slowly but steadily, reviews are coming in on my Kindle ebooks. Here's one that I particularly liked.
  • The Obamacare exchange in Colorado "smelled wrong," so Carol and I avoided it. We were right. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
  • I don't care how many tablets and smartphones you have. Paper is not dead.

Feb. 16th, 2016

Odd Notes on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Three ereaders - 500 Wide.jpg

Way back in my entry for November 24, 2015, I explained how we lucked into a pair of Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 smartphones. The Note 5 was out by then, but I didn't want it. Why? It has a non-replaceable battery and no internal card slot. That was a deal-killer for me, and something I'll go into more detail on a little later. We stayed with Verizon, because several people said Verizon has the best local network in Phoenix. (I'll state from experience that they did not have the best local network in Colorado Springs.)

Why did we want a Note phone at all? I have a lot of Samsung gear, and for the most part it's been reliable and delivers what was promised of it. The Note 4 is bigger than my 2011-era Droid X2 (a feature I wanted, irrespective of the ghastly coinage "phablet") but still small enough to fit in my shirt pocket. (I made scale cardboard cutouts of all the major phones I was considering and did the test on several shirts.) More compute power was basically assumed, since my Droid was almost five years old. I wanted a larger, brighter, higher-res display. I wanted S-Health, a piece of Samsung software that does several useful things, like tracking steps and measuring blood oxygen. Carol wanted a stylus. Her fingers have a somewhat strained relationship with touchscreens, and unlike me, she texts a lot. The stylus works perfectly for her.

I didn't really intend for this to be a review, because by this time I'm guessing it's pretty hard to find anybody selling Note 4s. Several people have asked me what I think of it, and what I'm doing here is gathering my thoughts on its first ten or twelve weeks in my pocket.

I like the phone a lot, and most of that cooks down to one thing: It consolidates several functions into a single slab. Prior to getting the Note 4, I did most of my ebook reading on my Kindle Paperwhite, which is still a marvelous item. However, it's another slab, and if I'm running around it has to be carried somewhere. I was poleaxed at how good the Note 4 display is for text, assuming you're not out in the sun. It runs the Kindle app, and it's in my pocket any time I'm awake. So if I need an e-reader to kill some time in an unexpectedly bad line at the Post Office, it's always there. In the photo above we have, L-R, the Kindle Paperwhite, the Galaxy Note 4, and the Droid X2, all running the Kindle app. I still lean toward the Paperwhite when I'm sitting in my comfy chair at home, but the Note 4 comes very close to the same experience.

It has a surprisingly capable digital camera, which (given sufficient light) takes very good HD video. The pedometer/blood oxygen/heart rate monitor serve specific needs of mine right now. I've tested the phone performing those functions against other instruments I have at home, and it agrees with all of them. I actually measured out a two-mile walk on MapPoint and walked it with the Note 4 in my pocket and its pedometer feature active. It agreed with MapPoint on the distance to within a couple hundred feet. I'm guessing that GPS helps out a little, as S-Health makes no attempt to physically measure my stride.

On the downside, battery life is nowhere near as good as on the Droid X2. I suppose that's reasonable, given the device's greater compute power, but it is annoying. When I'm at home, I find myself plugging it into the charger no later than 3PM and sometimes sooner. I'm not entirely sure how well it would handle a full 14 hour day. When the battery falls below 40%, I simply stop using it. If I had to be away from a charger for over a day (unlikely but possible) I would carry an extra charged battery.

Which brings me to the second point of this entry: The mysterious disappearance of replaceable batteries and SD card slots in modern smartphones. I specifically wanted the Note 4 because the Note 5 has no SD slot, and a non-replaceable battery that limits the useful life of the phone to the life of a single battery. Some say it's a cost issue, which is nonsense, especially on a $500 high-end phone. Some say it's a security issue, which puzzles me, since the phone can be set not to deal with apps installed on an SD card. No, these are excuses. I am pretty damned certain that the carriers are putting enormous pressure on the manufacturers (who sell most of their phones through carrier upgrades) to get rid of the card slots. The reason is simple: The carriers want to charge you bigtime for network data, and if you can sideload all your music and movies onto a 128 GB SD card, they won't get paid when you don't have to pull them down from the cloud. The battery is collateral damage, because the best excuse for a missing SD slot is to give the phone a back that can't be removed.

Planned obsolescence is a particular loathing of mine. When I like a piece of gear, I want to be able to use it as long as I choose. (We drove our 1995 Plymouth Voyager for almost 20 years. We've had our 4Runner for 15 years now, and intend to go for 20 there as well.) Microsoft's enormously pesty Windows 10 upgrade offer falls into that category. I like Win7, and feel that it's by far the best version of Windows yet. I see no reason to stop using it. Sooner or later, MS is going to make the upgrade mandatory, or at least slip it in under the door in the middle of night, rather like Congress did with Obamacare. What happens then I don't know and probably won't talk about, except to say that I will keep on using Win7. Or perhaps switch to a Linux distro that's been tweaked to look just like Win7. I have Zorin (if not the latest version) and may consider something like RoboLinux that runs Win7 in a VM. We'll see.

Carol and I have now had enough experience with our phones to decide that we're just not going to have a landline put in down here in Phoenix. We haven't had one here for two months now, and haven't missed it a bit. That's a first for us: Neither of us has ever lived for more than a few days without a landline. (We also bought an indoor TV antenna and so far have not missed cable, either.)

The note 4 runs all the apps I'm used to running: Voice Search, Google Maps, Weather Underground, Sky Map, Waze, GPS Test, SoundHound, a couple of dumb puzzle games, and whatever else comes with the phone. Response is more than perky enough for my needs, which are nowhere near as smartphone-centric as a lot of people's.

Bottom line: It's a good phone. It can be loaded to the gills with Flash memory, and you can keep a spare battery in your pack. If you have one, take care of it, because given the carriers' data-based business model, we may not see its like again.

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