2012-09-29

Getting Paid for Being Wrong


I have been using iOS6 Maps since the day it was formally released, and I think the new Maps app is great.  To me, it is a real step up in quality and UI over the old Google-based map solution.  I have zero complaints.

But some in the press seem to be "creating controversy" in order to "create revenue".

Considering the things I've heard and read (like "Maps claimed I was traveling North in the city, while I was actually traveling South"), I conclude that some in the press, including many bloggers, don't have the experience or expertise to publish on technology topics.  At least I hope so.  The more cynical side of me thinks that it could be that "controversy sells ads".

When one writes about technology for the public, the public expects that the author is coming from a place of expertise.  Someone who has done research, and who can appropriately and comprehensively explain things.

The public deserves more than personal opinion and personal experience - they deserve more than speculation.  They deserve more than a quote from someone with an axe to grind, or a retailer that has a product to sell.

All this Map nonsense is reminiscent of the "authentication chip" that iLounge claimed was part of the Apple Earbuds.  Of course, any well-experienced electronics expert could have informed iLounge that a chip is required for sending digital pushbutton signals over a standard analog headphone cable.  But instead, iLounge published the ridiculous "authentication chip" claim, which undoubtably upped their ad revenues and which did a disservice to their reader community.

2012-09-23

The iPhone dock connector was bad, and Lightning is awesome

Numerous people in the press are mourning the loss of the iPhone's 30-pin dock connector.  A separate vocal group has often complained about the lack of a Micro-USB connector port on the iPhone.

Both these groups are complaining about Apple's new Lightning dock connector.

But at the end of the day, the Lightning connector is a great move for Apple customers.  Here's why

Limitations of the Micro-USB standard

The 2007 MicroUSB-B connector became a European standard for cell phones in 2010.   Although USB is a good standard, it is far from adequate for modern smartphone use in terms of power, data, or flexibility.

In terms of data, the 2000-vintage USB2 standard provides a practical maximum data rate of roughly 35 MB/second.  However, most smartphones need to deliver faster I/O.  HDMI, for example, requires a consistent 500 MB/second data stream with very low latency rate.  USB2 to HDMI conversion is therefore impossible without a loss in quality.

In terms of power, the USB2 standard stipulates a maximum of 500 milliamps per device, unless its a device on a bus used to charge devices.  But most modern smartphones require much more than 500 milliamps for charging, and so that means either fast charging OR data, not both simultaneously.

In terms of flexibility, USB as implemented on smartphones is as an endpoint device  - not as the USB bus master.  And therefore, the smartphone cannot control other devices on the bus.  The smartphone has as much control of the USB bus as a mouse has on your computer's USB bus.

What about USB 3.0?  Forget it. First of all, it still isn't fast or latency free enough to driver modern HMDI without loss of quality.   Secondly, the MicroUSB 3.0 connector is large and unwieldy, and therefore is not seen on smartphones.

Failings of the classic 30-Pin Dock connector

The dock connector has numerous advantages over the MicroUSB standard.  First of all, it isn't limited to USB - it can carry analog audio and video, as well as HDMI, VGA, and a host of other signals.  It's 30 pins gives it a ton a flexibility you just can't get with a 5-pin USB2 interface.

Secondly, the 30-pin dock connector is expert at zero-insersion force.  What this means is that one can build a standard cradle or dock, and the 30-pin connector can slide home with near-zero crankiness, and be removed with near-zero stick-to-it-ness.  If desirable, cables can add a catch/release mechanism to add connector security, if so desired.

But the dock connector's advantages have led to some disadvantages.  The connector's pins have changed substantially over the years, so few devices are actually universal - old chargers don't work with new docks, new cables don't fit old cases, yesterday's video cables don't work with today's devices.  In all, it has become a hodgepodge, a solution that covers a lot of ground, but which is far from universally compatible.


Which one is a new, official Apple product? [A: both]
Which one works with your iPod? [A: maybe the left one]
Which one fits your case? [A: maybe none]

The next time you're in a hotel, try your old iPod or your newer iPhone in that clock radio with a dock. Does it work as you'd like?  If so, congratulations - your device is of the same vintage as the hotel's clock radio.  Evolution is a bitch.

Glories of Lightning

Lightning introduces a standard very high-speed bus for the iOS platform, much like Thunderbolt for the Intel platform.  It uses active cabling to eliminate all the old-school signaling, and replaces it with a single high-speed bus that can be converted into anything that peripheral manufacturers want to produce.

Lightning is all digital, and so media conversions have to happen within active cables.  This makes it possible to add unlimited new features over time without adding or redefining the interface.  It's bus master is exclusively the iPhone, so the iPhone can control a host of devices (unlike the USB2-B standard crowd).

Lightning is not USB, and therefore isn't subject to USB's limitations.  An active cable along with OS software is used to convert Lightning signaling to USB signaling.

Lightning is as fast as the CPUs on the iPhone, so the practical speed limit is simply what's attached to the other end of the connector, not the connector itself.  HDMI's multi-gigabit speeds?  No problem.  Analog audio/video?  Easy.  USB3?  Absolutely possible.  And as the technology beat moves on, Lighting will be able to deliver.

But wait, how, with only 8 pins, can it be faster than USB3?  Easy.  USB3 is a specific bus arbitration communication standard that travels for meters.  In contrast, Lightning is a direct I/O bus for very short hauls.  What something else?  Make it true with the right converter chip built into the cable. Ethernet. SCSI.  RS-232.  Even 1-wire is within the realm of reason.



Stuff to Buy for my iPhone 5!

I have my new iPhone 5 on order, but before I actually get it I want to make sure I have all the stuff I need to keep it healthy and happy.  Here are the items I have on order.

CaseCrown Case for the iPhone5

I want to keep my new iPhone5 looking like new.  But how?

I love my CaseCrown Slide-on case for my iPhone4.  It looks great, is slim, but is very strong.  It has kept my iPhone4 looking like new.  And so it only makes sense for me to get another CaseCrown for my iPhone5.  Happily, there is a CaseCrown for the iPhone5!  Find the CaseCrown Case Here.

CaseCrown Case for iPhone 5

A Lightning to Dock cable

Some are complaining that the Dock Connector is going away.  I say good riddance - the Dock connector was always an unwieldy hodgepodge, supporting about 20 analog and digital standards.  A standard very high speed connector will do much more in a compact and reliable package.

That said, I do have one key dock connector item that I love - my car FM transmitter.  My 12+ year old car doesn't have bluetooth or line-in, so my FM transmitter is a useful auto accessory.  With an inexpensive aftermarket Lightning to Dock cable, supporting power and analog audio, I'll be able to continue to use this old workhorse.  Aftermarket Apple Lightning to Dock Connector cables can be found at Amazon.

A two-port USB car charger

This just seems useful - when we're driving in our old cars, sometimes we want to plug in and charge more than one item.
A USB car charger that supports two devices simultaneously just seems like a good thing to keep in the glove box. This Griffin Powerjolt Dual USB item should do the trick!

2012-09-16

HP LaserJet Keeps On Ticking

I've had a lot of printers over the years, but there is one that just keeps on working for me - my HP LaserJet 4L. This little beast is over 18 years old!

My 4L is the slowest laser printer on earth, printing at a mere four black and white pages per minute.   And the paper tray holds a paltry 100 sheets.  But it keeps going and going.

I haven't had to replace any parts, and the toner cartridges - which last for about 3000 pages - are inexpensive and readily available.   The last one I bought was $19.  Do the math and you'll see that it beats the pants off of any modern inkjet printer.

I did end up adding an inexpensive Parallel to USB adapter to the HP - and plugged it into my trusty Airport Express.  Now my HP is always on the network and ready to handle the print jobs of the twenty+ nearby devices.  Wow!

My only concern now is my future ability to buy HP 4L cartridges.  I am definitely going to start keeping my used up carts for refill, as I can imagine that retail availability will decline over the next few years.


2012-09-02

802.11n Channel Width Optimization

After much research and experimentation, I have optimized my 802.11n channel width.  I have set it to the unconventional, yet best performing setting of 5 MHz.

I live in a busy city, and often count more than 15 visible access points with in range of my home.  All these access points compete with mine - they share the same spectrum, and if they're talking at the same time my wireless router is talking, error detection and retry protocols kick in.

802.11n has a standard width of 20 MHz, and optionally can be expanded to 40 MHz.  This improves performance, right?  Well, not exactly.

If you live in a WIFI void, with no competition, 40 MHz is awesome.  But in the real world, some other device chatting within that channel is going to result in significant clashing, resulting in performance-killing error correction protocols.  So I took the counter-intuitive approach and brought my router to 5 MHz.

But 5 MHz is a lot smaller!  Yes, with a narrow channel your theoretical bandwidth slows down to about 1/4 the performance.  But it isn't a theoretical world.  It's a real world, where there are competing radios.

With a narrow 5 MHz channel, it is much less likely that a neighbor's access point will compete with mine, and therefore error correction protocols rarely kick in.  And the proof is in the numbers: with a 5 MHz channel width, I average about 16 Mbit/sec - about 10% faster than when I have my access point set to 20 Mhz, and faster than my ISP in any case!

Of course, your mileage may vary.  If you live in a rural setting where there are no other access points, 40 MHz is likely the best choice.  A suburban area with houses every 100 yards apart might be better off at 10 or 20 MHz, depending on the local airwaves.  Your best bet is to try it, and measure the performance.

Another advantage of 5 MHz?  Longer laptop battery life!  The wider the channel, the more power your laptop has to expend to transmit on the channel.

Share