Do you remember these?

by Joey deVilla on November 24, 2014

rf modulator

Back when game consoles and what were called “home computers” had composite video output using RCA jacks like the one below…

composite video

…TVs had either coax cable input…

tv cable input

…or, if your TV was really old, antenna input:

tv antenna input

In that era, you needed an RF modulator to convert your console’s or computer’s output into a signal your TV could use:

game - rf modulator - tv hookup

These days, there isn’t as much need for RF modulator boxes, as consoles and computers have VGA and HDMI outputs, and TVs have corresponding input jacks. However, there are still a number of monitors and other devices that don’t have HDMI inputs, which means that there’s a niche market for HD RF modulators. You can plug an HDMI cable into its input, and its output comes in old-fashioned-TV-friendly coax. If you need to play PS4 or Xbox games on your grandparents’ TV, you might want one of these:

hd rf modulator

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gates jobs time covers

Microsoft’s recent announcement that they’re open-sourcing .NET, making Visual Studio free to small developers, and supporting development for Linux, Android, and iOS is a surprising development from one point of view, but if you were noodling with computers 30 years ago, you may think of it as a return to their oldest ways.

microsoft 80s logo 2

Those of you who grew up in the 1980s and took up programming then will remember the Microsoft logo above. You might not remember the logo they used from 1980 through 1981, making it the shortest-lived logo in their history:

microsoft 80s logo 1
Back then, a computer that you could buy from a retail store and could fit on a desktop was called a “home computer”, and more often than not, it had some version of BASIC(back when it was an acronym for Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), particularly Microsoft BASIC. It was either already in the machine’s ROM, or you’d load it from a plug-in ROM cartridge, cassette tape, or one of those newfangled floppy diskettes. During the “pointy logo era”, BASIC interpreters were Microsoft’s bread and butter, and if you used a version of BASIC that had the LEFT$(), MID$(), and RIGHT$() functions, you were most likely using a version of BASIC with a Microsoft license.

Some of my earliest programming experiences were on a friend’s TRS-80 Model I, which boasted a whopping 16K of RAM and Level II BASIC

trs-80 model i
…or its bigger, beefier, disk drive-equipped successor, the Model III, which another friend had:

trs-80 model iii
I would’ve loved to have a portable Model 100 back then:
trs-80 model 100
…because it would’ve let me program anywhere. By this time, a Microsoft copyright notice appeared when you started up BASIC:

trs-80 model 100 microsoft basic
Computers were still largely monochrome-displaying creatures back then, so when Radio Shack released a computer that could display color, it was a big enough differentiator for them to name it the Color Computer, even though it could display a maximum of 4 colors onscreen at any given time:

trs-80 color computer
It also had a version of Microsoft BASIC:

coco basic

If you had an Atari 400 or 800 computer and wanted to program, you’d load up Microsoft BASIC by diskette, or if you didn’t have a disk drive, you’d use a ROM cartridge…

atari microsoft basic

…pull out the manual…

atari microsoft basic book

…and start coding:

atari microsoft basic screen

Terrible as the TI 99/4 was, it did have a decent enough implementation of Microsoft BASIC for me to get started with programming simple adventure games:

ti-99

At my high school in the early ’80s, we had Commodore PET computers…

commodore pet 4032

…and a good number of us at home had Vic-20s and Commodore 64s

commodore 64

Commodore machines ran some variation of Microsoft BASIC. Bill Gates offered to license it to Commodore for $3 per unit, but founder Jack Tramiel said “I’m already married” in response. He then managed to negotiate a “pay once, no royalties” deal where they got a perpetual license for $25,000. I have a theory that experiences like this and the copying of his Altair BASIC tape led Gates to become a ruthless businessman in the late ’80s and ’90s.

Here’s a video of the Computer History Museum’s 25th anniversary party for Commodore, where Jack Tramiel tells the story of how he negotiated the deal with Gates:

We think of Apple and Microsoft as rivals, but it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time, in the days of the
Apple ][, they were hardware/software buddies…

apple 2

You could program an Apple ][ using the original BASIC that Woz implemented, but if you wanted real programming power, you used Applesoft BASIC, a variant of Microsoft BASIC. The first version was something you loaded via cassette tape:

Applesoft II came out afterwards, and it was 16K in size, which was a lot at the time. Most home computers were based on either the Z-80 processor (the TRS-80s were) or the 6502 (as Apple’s, Atari’s, and Commodore’s were), both of which had a 16-bit address bus. That meant that they could address a maximum of 64K memory locations.

A maxed-out Apple ][‘s memory was arranged this way:

  • The lower 48K were for RAM. If you had a disk drive, some of this RAM was devoted to the disk operating system.
  • The upper 16K were for ROM, which included the original BASIC.

It turned out that through some bank-switching magic, you could boost an Apple ][ to 64K of RAM. You could buy a 16K RAM card that would plug into one of the Apple ][‘s many expansion slots, where it would replace the upper 16K taken up by ROM. You often loaded Applesoft BASIC, Apple Pascal, or some other programming language into it, which is why this 16K card was often called a “language card”. A number of third-party vendors sold such language cards, including Microsoft:

microsoft ramcard

Microsoft even sold a card that put a Z-80-based computer into your Apple ][, which let it run CP/M:

microsoft softcard

Later, when the original Macintosh came out…

mac 128k

…Microsoft came out with a BASIC interpreter for it…

microsoft basic for mac

…and Bill Gates made an appearance at an Apple event where he said that he expected that the Mac would account for half of Microsoft’s revenues in 1984:

When IBM approached Microsoft for software for their new Personal Computer, they got more than just DOS (which Microsoft put together in a hurry by buying 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products), they also got BASIC:

ibm basic

80s computer lab

It was a time when so many different computing platforms were available, each with its own operating system and features. It might have been more difficult to program them, but I found that I could leap from computer to computer with ease, because Microsoft BASIC connected them all. I knew that I could take the code from books like these…

basic computer games

…and make it work on an Apple, Atari, Commodore, IBM PC, Texas Instruments, and TRS-80 with only a few tweaks for each machine.

I’d like to see if Microsoft can repeat this with their new open-approach, open-sourced .NET.

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Why employees hate BYOD

pitchforks and torches

In a CIO article, Tom Kaneshige opens his article about the dislike of BYOD with a couple of examples where employees were “burned by BYOD”:

At a New York banking firm, a couple of executives lost their jobs because they didn’t report lost phones within 24 hours, in violation of a draconian BYOD policy. At a California law firm, the CIO knew every time one of its lawyers slipped away to play golf, exposed by watchful BYOD management software.

Employee issues with BYOD, as Kaneshige points out, isn’t so much about technology as it is about trust — or the lack thereof. People hate BYOD when it encroaches on their privacy, particularly with:

  • GPS location tracking, which many people liken to prisoner monitoring ankle bracelets,
  • App inventory, which can be a bit too revealing about your personal life: “No one wants to be approached in the cafeteria by a co-worker sympathizing with you about your cancer, just because word got out that you have a cancer-related app on your iPhone,” and
  • Bad user experience, which is worsening as more management and security controls are added to BYOD solutions, which are already viewed as electronic shackles.

What causes “Shadow BYOD”?

shadow it

Bad BYOD experiences or outright bans on the work-related use of personal mobile devices often lead to “Shadow IT” or “Shadow BYOD”, a term used to describe when employees use their own devices and applications for work and to access corporate resources without IT’s knowledge or approval. A recent survey by custom business application company TrackVia features these statistics on the mobile work habits of millennials, who are expect to make the majority of the workforce in a few short years:

  • Nearly 70% of millennials surveyed have admitted that they bring applications from outside the enterprise to support their work, such as Box, Evernote, and Google Drive.
  • 69% of millennials surveyed said that they never work with IT to select new business apps.
  • 60% of millennials surveyed weren’t concerned about corporate security when they used personal apps instead of corporate-approved apps.
  • 35% of millennials use their own apps to support use across different devices, something that the corporate-approved apps didn’t support.

You can see TrackVia’s complete survey results on their site, where you’ll find the infographic shown below:

rebels with a cause

For BYOD to really work, there’s got to be trust and training

lots of devices

“Like many other aspects of IT, BYOD operates across a spectrum from ‘definitely not’ to ‘anything goes’,” says Rob Bamforth, an analyst at the research firm Quocirca. “There will be some for whom BYOD is not the route to go down, principally due to concerns over their ability to implement effective data segmentation and access monitoring.”

Bamforth’s observation is important to keep in mind. A simplistic, restrictive, one-size-fits-all approach to BYOD is more than likely to backfire, as employees find work-arounds to such restrictions and as a result, expose the company to risk as they store company data in unsafe places, using unsafe apps, on unsecured devices. While there are certain lines of work where the security and liability requirements are too strict to allow employees to bring their own devices, most businesses can accommodate a BYOD program that balances security with usability.

SecureData’s head of cloud services, Alan Carter, suggests that setting mobile device policy should first. “Before even thinking about investing in technology, get the policy sorted. Doing it the other way around will result in anything but a perfect rollout.” We agree: an user base who’ve been taught about secure mobile use and who are working under a policy that treats them as intelligent people — and hey, if they’re not, why’d you hire them? — is as important a part of mobile security as any mobile device management solution.

Recommended reading

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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do not disturb the unix wizard

Found via CatsMob. Click the photo to see the source.

That crazy old wizard just typed grep . ./droids.txt | grep -v r2-d2 | grep -v c-3p0!

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Whenever you read a story about telcos and data plans, keep this graph in mind

We posted this graph back in July, but it’s worth repeating from time to time: according to tech consultant Chetan Sharma’s US Mobile Market Q1 2014 report, where he pointed out that as of late last year, more than half of the “Big Four” mobile carriers’ ARPU (average revenue per user) comes from data:

Click the graph to see it at full size.

As mobile devices become more powerful and take on new forms (first phones, then tablets, now watches and “smart bands”), and as they find their way into more aspects of our work and home lives, their usage — and in turn, mobile data usage and spending — will continue to increase. If you’re in the business of managing mobile expenses like we are, knowing what drives the carriers’ behaviors and offerings is key to finding efficiencies and savings opportunities.

AT&T and Verizon’s “more data for less money” offerings

att and verizon

Forbes recently posted an article looking at AT&T and Verizon’s current “more data for less money” offers, where they looked at both telcos’ offerings and compiled them into a single table, which we’ve adapted below:

AT&T Verizon
Monthly fee Old New Old New
$40 2GB 3GB 1GB 1GB
$70 4GB 6GB 4GB 4GB
$80 6GB 6GB * 6GB 10GB
$100 n/a n/a 10GB 15GB
$130 15GB 30GB 16GB 30GB
$150 20GB 20GB 40GB

* AT&T has a 6GB plan at this price, but it may be discontinued.
Data from Forbes. Click here to see the source.

Some notable bits of info from the article:

  • AT&T are aiming at the low end of the market, offering a better deals at the $40 price point.
  • Verizon’s deals are more enticing once you approach paying $80 or more a month. If you’re considering AT&T’s $70/month plan, you may want to consider paying an additional $10/month and get an extra 4GB of data.
  • Verizon is offering a $150 credit to people who move their mobile number over to them, taking a page from T-Mobile’s playbook. Forbes reports that this is increased competitiveness rather than a response to customer loss.
  • Will this sort of pricing, which will increase data usage, make service worse? The article suggests that the real culprit in Verizon’s service degradation in the San Francisco Bay Area is HD Voice, which allows for markedly improved call quality on select flagship phones, such as the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6 series.
  • And most importantly: Will these offers go away? Yes, but keep these in mind:
    • If you sign up for any of these plans, you’ll be “grandfathered” and be able to keep it for as long as you like.
    • Given the market’s currently competitive state, more offers like these are likely to come in the near future. Expect carrier plan deals after the holidays, when customers will be looking for the best plans for their shiny new mobile presents.

“Refuse to unlock my device for international travel? Goodbye forever.”

escape from the death star

Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson was a happy and loyal customer of his carrier until he tried to unlock his device so he could use a local prepaid SIM card while visiting Germany for a week. That’s when it all went downhill, and he shares his story in this article.

Profiles of Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s CEOs

sprint and t-mobile

Marcelo ClaureThe Kansas City Star reports that newly-minted Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure will present his first quarterly report today, the 2Q 2014 report, after the markets close. His first three months — he took over from former CEO Dan Hesse in August after their failed attempt to buy T-Mobile — have seen the carrier change strategies, lay off employees, and cut prices.

Bidness Etc. aren’t very optimistic about the report: while Sprint will likely show an increase in the metrics for current subscribers, there probably won’t be an increase in the number of subscribers, and between price cuts and the cost of network upgrades, ARPU (average revenue per user) is likely to take a hit.

john legere

And finally, because a lot of people can’t get enough of him, here’s Sci-Tech Today’s profile of T-Mobile CEO John Legere. He’s loud, he’s audacious, and in a mere two years changed both the company and its public perception dramatically, as well as the way the other carriers have had to do business in response.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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Tablet shipments grew, but the big players’ shares in the market dropped

tablet shipments 3q 2013-14

Click the graph to see it at full size.

Market research firm IDC reports that while the number of shipments of tablets from the third quarter of 2013 to 2014, from 48.3 million units to 53.8 million units, the big players — Apple, Samsung, and ASUS — lost market share. It was the smaller players — Lenovo, RCA, and others — who moved more units than ever, and grew their slices of the market pie.

In their article on the topic, VentureBeat predicts that while the small players are enjoying their moment in the sun, they’ll eventually get pushed out:

Yet this can’t last forever, as IDC Senior Research Analyst Jitesh Ubrani notes in his statement. “Although the low-cost vendors are moving a lot of volume, the top vendors, like Apple, continue to rake in the dollars. A sub-$100 tablet simply isn’t sustainable — Apple knows this — and it’s likely the reason they aren’t concerned with market share erosion.”

Wait — RCA sells tablets?

rca makes tablets

If you read the previous section, you probably asked yourself “RCA sells tablets?” They do — in fact, they make a number of Android tablets, with which they gave the tablet market a surprise boost:

  • Pro10 Edition: 10″ screen with 1024 by 600 resolution, quad core processor, 16GB storage and Android 4.2.2 ($199.99 MSRP)
  • 9 Gemini: 9″ screen with 1024 by 600 resolution, quad core processor, 8GB storage and Android 4.4 ($139.99 MSRP)
  • 8 Apollo: 8″ screen with 1024 by 768 resolution, quad core processor, 8GB storage and Android 4.4. ($119.99 MSRP)
  • 7 Mercury: 7″ screen with 1024 by 600 resolution, quad core processor, 8GB storage and Android 4.4. ($89.99 MSRP)

According to IDC’s research director for tablets, Jean Philippe Bouchard, RCA’s recent boost in sales comes from a one-time deal between RCA and Walmart to put low-cost Android tablets on their shelves. They’re expected to sell in these larger volumes straight through the end of the holiday shopping season.

For more details about RCA’s tablets, visit their dedicated site, RCATablets.com.

Intel: Late to the tablet party, but still attending

acer and dell tablets

In their article, Intel-Based Tablets Offer Competent Low-Cost Android Alternatives For The Holidays, Forbes looks at the Acer Iconia Tab 8 and Dell Venue 8, two Android tablets powered by Intel-based chips rather than the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets you’ll find in many popular Android devices. Both are priced just below $200.

The Acer tablet features Intel’s Atom Z3735 quad-core processor, which sound better than the Dell’s Intel Atom Z3480 dual-core one, but Forbes recommends you consider these numbers, which show that while Acer’s quad-core tablet is better at number-crunching, multitasking, and mainstream computing, Dell’s dual-core device does better with graphics, gaming, and multimedia thanks to its graphic core. “Better”, in this case, depends on what you’ll end up using the tablet for.

For a more in-depth look at these tablets, see this writeup on HotHardware.com.

this article also appears in the GSG blog

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Church sign of the day

by Joey deVilla on October 31, 2014

adam and eve - apple terms and conditions

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