17 April 2008

I-Go Car Sharing Prices

Soon after I moved to Chicago my trust old Subaru became much less trusty. I didn't want to buy another car so I joined I-Go Carsharing and ditched the junker. Since I joined they have gone though a few different fee structures and added tax. Overall I'm really pleased with the service and the cars but I have always felt like there was a need for better reporting on what the different vehicles cost per hour is. So I made a chart of the GO standard rates.

Weekday/HrWeekend/hrNight24 HrsPrice Tier

Night is midnight to 6:00am and the tiers are for specific locations not specific vehicle vehicle type.

Vehicles in each tier:

A*: Civic Hybrid, Fit, xB, Matrix, Prius, and Element
B: Civic Hybrid, Civic, Fit, xB, Matrix, and Prius
C: Civic Hybrid, Civic, Fit, xB, Matrix, and Prius
D: Element
E: Sienna

* Tier A is identical to tier B except for the price of a 24 hour reservation. On April 17, when I checked, that pricing tier applied only to these vehicles:

4479 xB
4518 Fit
4416 Element
4549 Civic Hybrid
4491 Prius
4539 Fit
4538 Matrix

I only have a GO Standard membership so I cannot post the prices of the other plans.

28 January 2008

Inked Finger=Freedom?!?!?!?

"We've seen juvenile Iraqis holding up ink stained fingers and celebrating their freedom." George W. Bush, January 28, 2007

I have long been frustrated with the substitution of a symbol for the actual practice of democracy and freedom. Remember the State of the Union Address in 2005 with all of the Republicans sporting newly stained fingers? Yet "our" president continues with this pointless rhetoric. President Bush has to go back to years to find something positive about the nascent government in Iraq. Casting a ballot is not liberty, by that measure both Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro have ruled over free societies.

Democracy, liberty, and freedom exist as a state of being in their truest form. They are not enjoyed through the singular civic act for voting, but are experienced in perpetual freedom of voice, action, and thought. It is no wonder the President George W. Bush confuses what freedom means for the Iraqi people as he has fought to restrict the freedoms of his fellow Americans.

I can only hope that our next president has the strength of character and good judgment to use actual progress as the measure for success and doesn't inflate a fleeting moment of promise into a defining achievement. How many innocent Iraqi's have died since 2005? How many more will die before Bush's folly in the Mid-East is over?

27 January 2008

Over the lake and through the woods...

This morning I went mountain biking in the winter for the first time in a long while. At Palos, just outside Chicago, we knew it would be an interesting ride with a few inches of fresh snow from Friday night and the mercury hovering around 17°. While it was slow going, I had a great time. The crisp air and pristine forest combined to make for a memorable experience. We ended our ride with a loop around Maple Lake, four bikers cutting fresh tracks through new powder on the ice.

Many thanks to Chris for re-introducing me to the joy of winter mountain biking, and for having patience with my slow progress.

16 January 2008

MacBook Air-ror

I penned an extensive rant yesterday and feel even stronger about the new MacBook Air after sleeping on it.

The Air is either an expensive and slow MacBook with no expandability, ports, optical drive, or replaceable battery. Or it is a large, not very well featured, and marginally faster sub-notebook. Neither is very compelling.

What Apple forgot:

- Sub-notebooks are about footprint not "thin." Anything with a 13.3" screen is not a sub-notebook. People who buy a sub-notebook know this and enter into the purchase knowing full well that their window into the computer is limited.
- The Sony TZ IS great sub-notebook hardware. It is a proven form factor. Comparing a TZ to an Air in all three dimensions shows the TZ to be the truly more portable device.
- Thin is fragile. The thinner a product the harder it is to minimize twisting and torsion stress on the components. I have my doubts about real world durability.
-Apple really needed something to come in under the MacBook, not between the MacBook and the Pro. Imagine if the Air was a $900 computer with an 11-12" screen and NO PORTS. People would be much less inclined to find fault with all of the compromises because of the size and cost.
-People with sub-notebooks also love docking stations. Throw a $300-400 docking station into the mix with a larger companion hard drive, a DVD burner, and a full complement of ports and you've got a great computer.

What's got me bummed about the MBA is that it is so close, even if only one or two of my issues were resolved (docking station being #1) it becomes a much more compelling product.

15 January 2008

MacBook Air: The G4 Cube Revisited

The MacWorld goodies are out of the bag and I'm rather disappointed:

MacBook Air
Time Capsule

AppleTV (software only)
iPhone (software only)
iPod Touch (software only)
iTunes (movie rentals)

Time Capsule is cool but is not something that is that much different that any of the other NAS devices on the market. I'm certain it is more integrated with OS X than any other device.

The big new for this MacWorld is clearly the MacBook Air. In the first hours after its release into the wild I'm going to make a prediction: the MacBook Air is the PowerMac G4 Cube of 2008. Really cutting edge from a design view, but too much of a compromise in terms of usability and cost. Like the Cube the MBA seems to just miss on a few key things.

Here is my list of misses: (I'm make reference to the Sony TZ throughout because Steve mentioned it and I've used one, I really liked it as hardware but despised Vista and Sony's pre-installed crapware.)

Is it small? It is thin. Really, really thin. But on the other two dimensions (It still exists in three dimensions) it is the same size as a MacBook. This is obviously the result of the screen limiting these two dimensions, but who said the MBA needed a 13.3" screen? (I think I know the answer to that one, and it wasn't his fake persona.) Thin is good but small is better. Reducing the already smallest dimension doesn't do a whole lot to make a notebook smaller. The Sony TZ with an 11" screen is slightly thicker but it is considerably smaller in the other two dimensions, the two that matter in my opinion.

Optical Drive: This is the biggest thing that smacks of the Cube to me. The cube has long impressed me as a machine that was designed from the outside in. Once the appearance and casing are decided on everything has to be shoehorned into that design or it was left out. In the MBA's case that happened to be the optical drive. Optical drives are still a necessary thing, even if it is just to watch a DVD on an flight. Messing around with an external or the virtual drive thing smacks as a totally inelegant solution to "the world's thinnest" computer. The Sony TZ has an available DVD-RW DL drive.

Screen: Glossy only! Need I say more?

RAM and Storage: The 2 GBs is soldered to the motherboard. While the TZ does have removable memory its maximum is also 2 GB. Not much to compare until your memory goes bad (I've never had that happen, I've just heard of it happening). The MBA has only enough room for a 1.8" storage solution. Apple has specified an 80 GB iPod hard drive (presumably there is not enough room for the thicker 160 GB iPod drive) or a 64 GB SSD drive for a cool grand more. The TZ has the same 1.8" but can accept the slightly thicker 160 GB version and has the option to replace the optical drive with a 2.5" laptop hard drive. One can outfit the Sony TZ with several hundred GB of storage on two drives!

Ports: USB and a headphone jack! That's it (I don't consider the "micro" DVI hole a port because it isn't a usable port until you add the dongle which kind of destroys the idea of compact protability). No wired ethernet, no firewire, no audio in, no express card? Without a wireless connection the MBA becomes a gilded cage for your data. The Sony TZ has all of this plus two card reader slots (SD and memory stick), more USB and a normal video port (albeit, VGA).

Battery: This thing has an iPod-like build in battery. Come on, Apple!?!?! Hope you aren't working on a deadline with no access to power when the battery dies. My backup battery for my PowerBook has come in REALLY handy for me. The TZ has a removable battery.

Cost: What do I gain for ~$500 over a MacBook. Besides the eye candy and three pounds vs five, not much. You do, however, lose performance (1.6 vs 2.0+ GHz), ports, optical drive, battery change-a-bility, and storage. Like the G4 Cube where people decided to buy PowerMacs instead and put functionality ahead of design, people will choose the MacBook over the MBA.

To summarize my complaints: The cost of thin is too much, in function and dollars. I would have much rather seen a less radical design with a smaller footprint that included the standard array of ports and drives instead of such a focus on thin. To me this is like VISA trying to sell me on a credit card that is half the thickness of the one currently in my wallet, and to make it thinner it doesn't include the magnetic strip. Ultimately for Apple it doesn't matter if my credit card has a magnetic strip or not, I will not be purchasing anything announced at this MacWorld.


My Fixes: I am always skeptical of critics without solutions so here are mine. While my ideas are pure academic here they are.
- 11" high res screen, matte, with a focus on footprint reduction.
- Optional bay. Let the consumer decide what goes in that spot: optical drive, second HD, or even another battery
- Don't get so hung up on thin
- Include optional 3G wireless data (This seems like the ultimate "MacBook Air" to me).

My Docking Station Rant: If Apple had announced a companion docking station that included a bunch of ports and maybe even a large hard drive, the portability doesn't come as such a sacrifice to performance. Things that could be gained by a docking station:
- Storage in the dock. An iPod-to-iTunes-like relationship between the dock and the computer. You could keep some things synced on the MBA but most things are stored on the dock.
- You could access the dock storage remotely through the internet, just like Leopard does using "Back to My Mac."
- A higher volume fan on the docking station could allow for faster clock speed of the CPU when docked.
-A video card installed in the dock could drive a large monitor connected to the dock.
- A small travel dock could give access to more ports on the road while still keeping a compact form factor.

Let me know what you think. Am I wrong about the MacBook Air?

12 January 2008

Bank of America? Not My America

So I have an issue with Bank of America. I need to speak with a customer support person due to a problem syncing with Quicken. I have been on hold FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF and have not yet spoken to the person in web support. The initial customer support person I spoke with was nice enough and was available after a short wait. She transfered me to Quicken banking support an hour and a half ago. Such BS!!!! Bank of America? If this is America I'm moving.

Update: After over two hours on hold I finally spoke to a person. Turns out BoA does not support Quicken Direct Connect if you have a Mac. Every account I have with other financial institutions supports Direct Connect for Mac so BoA must not care to have Mac user's business. I canceled the card.

Here is my conservation with the BoA guy: (I edited out the two hours of hold music. Also, I initially sound like kind of an idiot and can't formulate a coherent sentence. I think two hours of that music made me dumber.)

Note: Direct Connect is a feature in Quicken, since about 2001, that allows the software to download transactions without logging in through the bank's web site. BoA does support Quicken Web Access so you can download your transactions once a month after your statement has closed. This is not very user friendly and defeats the purpose of tracking account balances in Quicken

Note 2: This card was an LL Bean credit card. LL Bean has always had top notch customer service. It is suprising that a company who takes such pride in its customer relationship would partner with Bank of America to handle its branded credit card.

10 January 2008

Best Buy is a Bitch

I needed a last minute gift for someone and on my way to see them I stopped by Best Buy. I had been given a heads up that this person had just received a new iPod Nano and could use a case for it. After looking over the selection and getting over the fact that $0.27 worth of molded plastic can retail for $24.99 I decided on the DLO HybridShell for the Nano. I gave it as a gift and all was well in the world.

When I got home I looked up the DLO website just to see what they might have for PSP and noticed that the DLO HybridShell for Nano is listed with a MSRP of $19.99. Now, I know that Best Buy is almost never the cheapest place to buy things, but more that MSRP? I checked the Best Buy website and there it is listed for $19.99. WTF? I called the store and where I made my ill fated purchase and they were more that happy to "price match" to the $19.99 price after checking on their computer with bestbuy.com and refunded me the difference to my credit card over the phone. I asked the clerk why would you need to price match with Best Buy, wouldn't the price just be the same? She had no idea why and did mention that this particular item had been $24.99 since November.

I know that it is five measly dollars, it just really gets me when retailers try to pull this kind of BS. I can almost hear the MBA douche with a pie chart showing the cost/benefit analysis of jacking up the price on iPod accessories. He probably got a raise. It would be nice to just feel like I can trust a business to sell me product with out playing games.

Has anyone else had a similar experience with Best Buy?

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