June 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Apple’s talk at WWDC last Monday was a very expected event, without a doubt. As it turns out, the iPhone 5 wasn’t announced, and besides iOS 6, I felt like it was mostly the new Retina display-equipped Macbook Pro that stole the show. After all, it is quite a big deal… despite not being on par with pixel pitch on the new iPad (aka v3, I hate that stupid name) or the iPhone, the new display brings laptop display pixel pitch to a new all-time high. That’s all fine and dandy… right up until you figure out that that they’ve compromised pretty much everything other than the screen to be able to use the Retina moniker on this new product.
The problem with the new Retina MacBooks is that it’s Apple’s cockiest products yet. As iFixit has reported, it’s probably the least repair and upgrade-friendly notebook every produced, with NOTHING being easily user-upgradeable, and damn-near every component soldered right onto the motherboard. For the consumer, this means that buying AppleCare is almost mandatory, seeing as nobody wants to be the proud owner of a 2000+$ brick if anything happens after the 1 year base warranty. That in itself isn’t what bothers me: Apple answered a demand for ever thinner, better laptops and in the end only the consumer can be blamed for creating a demand for such a ridiculous product. What’s potentially problematic is that Apple’s cocky move might just put them into a very dire situation.
Allow me to contextualize with a little anecdote. Having been an in-store technician for a big-box retailer for most of the last 5 years, I’ve seen the Nvidia laptop chipset scandal unfurl firsthand. I f I have learned anything from it, it’s that mass-marketing a product nowadays is a infinitely delicate balance between building a desirable product, and keeping cost to a minimum. Build something too solid and you’ll be outgunned by other more aggressive OEMs with lower prices, build it too cheap and chances are that you’ll fork over tons of money for repairs while killing brand loyalty within your customer base. The whole experience showed me just how much stuff goes into release a product and backing a it with a warranty: it’s a big business that involves lots of people, an impressive amount of red tape, and most importantly lots of money.
With the Nvidia chipset fiasco, OEMs like HP (without a doubt one of the hardest hit) stacked all the odds against themselves. Ultimately the problem with these chipset is Nvidia’s design error, noteably the use of high-lead bump on their entire lineup as a cost-cutting measure. I won’t shed a tear for HP though: their insistence in flooding the market with these cheap Nvidia-based products in both low and mid-end notebook market segments effectively put a large percentage of their eggs in the same broken basket. This cavalier attitude with matters of risk management cost them a lot; for a total of just about 3 years, including the 12 additional months of warranty offered by HP after Nvidia admitted their fault, my store’s techroom has put 25$ in it’s pockets every time it has shipped a unit for repair, countless amounts of motherboards have been replaced, and copious amounts of customers were scared off of HP products despite our best efforts to convince them that newer models were unaffected. With repairs probably costing the OEM around 100-150$ each (25$ facilitation, ~75-100$ part, ~25-40$ labour & handling) and numerous repairs being a regular occurrence, it’s hard to see how an 600$ laptop can remain profitable for very long. And that’s just for motherboard repairs; one must consider that motherboards aren’t the only things that break. In many occurrences, the GPU / chipset overheating issues also caused the Wifi card to crap out… being an integrated card, this again warranted a costly replacement of the motherboard. To put it shortly, for a year or two, most of the laptops that HP put on the market were ticking time bombs.
Back to Apple. With the company now enjoying a cult status in the world of mainstream computing, Apple is now aggressively expanding. Because of this popularity, their procedures with regards to dealing with customer service issues is somewhat unusual: Apple stores are known to exchange products directly under standard warranty OR AppleCare if the defect is covered. They even go as far as to replaced physically damaged units for new / refurb units for a nominal fee which is more or less equivalent to the average cost that an authorized repair depot gets paid in parts and labour for a warranty repair. One thing that permits this is obviously aggressive demand for Apple products, old or new; people just don’t care if the product they’re buying is a refurb or not, they just want their laptop / tablet to have an apple on it. Another is the relatively good durability of Apple products, if you ignore certain specific issues that were for the most part corrected.
With the advent of the MacBook Air a few years ago and the introduction of the Retina MBP, Apple is putting this customer service model at risk by putting too much confidence in their products’ reliability. The problem is that they can only control their products’ quality to a certain extent, and that good design doesn’t inherently imply reliability. Event though their quick recall of defective products and pompous announcements of new products are conducive to forgetting them, let’s remember that the company has had to deal many times with defective products coming from 3rd party parts integrated in their products. Apple too has been faced with the Nvidia chipset / video problems, and the Seagate 7200.10 recall is also one to remember.
Now that almost everything is integrated to the motherboard, risk of facing severe problems that command complicated and expensive motherboard callbacks or repairs are multiplied many times over. Add to that the ever-increasing push for transistor density and performance, and it could very well equate to issues to which Apple possibly couldn’t answer with it’s usual method of directly exchanging products up front. Nvidia has had problems with yield on the 28nm, which opens up a door for potentially defective products. Intel is now on 22nm fab process, which required them to rethink transistor design: another potentially risky venture. I have no idea how Hynix manufactures their products, but they are clearly not safe from defective products either, seeing that Hynix based RAM sticks are replaced in my store on a daily basis in all brands of laptops and desktops.
What happens if any of theses components are discovered to be a common point of failure 6 months after the release date? Could Apple maintain their habit of exchanging products up front even if it means writing off expensive motherboards? In the event of a mass recall, could Apple turn around quickly enough to produced a revised revision of a product in order to keep it’s customers happy? And if they can, what happens to all those defective unit which would usually end up being sold as refurbs? Can Apple’s customer service model survive without this steady stream of replacement products which are essentially built from write-off “scrap”? These are all questions to which, being a simple end-link in the repair chain, I have no answers to. Quite frankly, this has me worried about Apple’s future if the “all-in on the motherboard” trend continues.
With all this being said, I don’t mean to disrespect to the highly trained engineers and other experts would probably understand the inner workings of marketing electronics much better than I do. However, I believe that OEMs in general need to keep their esteem of their products realistic, and realize that another Nvidia-gate is just around the bend for all of them. The smallest of cost-cuts or reckless business decisions by parts suppliers can quickly snowball into quick loss of customer base and corporate prestige. Much more so when you are selling all these risky parts in an integrated package.
Apple abandoning modular design for the sake of producing cutting edge products is what just might rob them of their ability to turn themselves around in the event of a mass recall, and while they might have the financial means to sail through the storm, losing customers in the long term is ALWAYS bad for business, no matter how prestigious a brand is now.
April 6, 2011 § Leave a Comment
- Last bit of Montreal before takeoff: smoked meat in a bagel. It’s doesn’t get more local than this. Best airport food I’ve had so far.
- Something more exotic: Jamaican beer. I’ll be honest, it ain’t got shit on the bitter lagers I usually drink up, but in it’s context, it’s a very nice drink to have. 35SPn in the background: it was on beach duty for a part of my trip.
- In Florida, cars are clean. This particular picture shows a set of pristine BMW Z3 M Roadster wheels, dubbed Roadstars. 17×9, et8 in the rear… how’s that for width and low offset? Near impossible to fit on any vehicle without serious bodywork, camber and tire stretch. Check the lip out on these bad boys. It’s the kind of stuff I dream about these days…
- That’s actually a real name for a real shop. Wow.
More pictures of my trip to Miami / the Caribbean via the Carnival Glory are coming up soon… the amount of 30+ shot panos and HDR shots I have to process is kind of slowing down my post-processing routine.
March 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
- Typo or cool new way to spell computer?
- Shouts to Manmade clothing, a little indy brand from New York who screenprints in-house. Ordered two shirts from them the other day, top shelf stuff.
- I can’t believe my Daewoo Lanos. Under a grand of repairs and maintenance over more or less 8 years, original brakes, original ignition, original everything basically. Hopefully it stays that way and I won’t get killed.
- Couldn’t have said it better.
Next week is a special week: I’m going on a cruise in the Caribbeans! For this reason, I won’t be posting up a TWiP next week, but I’ll be back in two weeks!
March 2, 2011 § Leave a Comment
- The now traditional Monday omelette. 5-6 eggs, an assortment of meats (usually ham and bacon), red onions, metric tons of cheese, and whatever else happens to be in the fridge at the moment pretty much. Protip: a very thick omelette needs to cook slowly if you want to be able to flip it!
- When somebody at a booze-fueled party climbs on some other person’s shoulders, it usually means disaster. But this time, what came out of the ordeal is probably one of my best iPhone pics to date.
- Nothing like cuddling up with your newest acquaintance after a night of debauchery. Do it while you’re young, I was told!
February 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Chunky on BlacKeys B+W.
- Special edition collabo shirt from Defgrip, Animal and rider Edwin Delarosa. Shirt is sick and I’m currently working on getting some laminates done to compliment my Mike Brennan poster.
- It’s this dude’s birthday. Two big tens, a few gulps of straight-up white rum and a couple of random drinks later, he’s out in the freezing rain downtown puking his guts out. Hard stuff.
- Late night snack at the golden arches. You just can’t beat nuggets when it comes to alcohol-induced hunger.
- I’ve been seeing this car all over town but never got a chance to take a picture of it. Can’t get any more gangsta than a murdered out Sebring, right?
Now that I’m actually taking pictures, let’s set a new goal: publish the TWiP post by Monday! See you next Monday !
February 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
- The new hotness over here: taping your cans on on top of the other when you’re finished with them and strutting around drunk as hell with your Pabst Cane of Wisedom. LATFH.
- Yeah, this was totally on purpose. Dude at Mia Pasta cooking up my meal, those guys put on a pretty good show while cooking stuff.
More next week…. I promise!
February 9, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This week’s combo, Jimmy on Claunch 72 Monochrome.
- Improvised workbench. I’ve been fixing ‘puters this week, and not just at work. Currently working on a transparent proxy running off pfSense, I’ll post the results if it ever goes live.
- Flash-storm = mega car-cake. The other side was even worst, it was unreal.
- Old-school Apple gear. Some Apple fanboy hipster would probably fork out a month’s worth of food for this baby. It’s fully functional!
- I’m still unsure if this is an easter-egg in memtest or actual errors. Pretty cool.
January 31, 2011 § 3 Comments
Back on the regular schedule. This week’s combo: Helga Viking on Float.
- Ahhh, children have the cutest way of spelling… wait… Yeah, it figures that if you think Hoegaarden is top-shelf beer you probably can’t spell too good.
- Rare spotting: a bone-stock second generation Scirocco. Quebec has very little Sciroccos as it is, don’t mind the fact that I spotted this specimen on one of the coldest days of the harsh Quebecois winters. Unlike most dubs of this generation still on the road like Mk2s, it had surprisingly little rust, and the inside was flawless. This is the kind of car just asking for a purchase offer note in the windshield.
- Chimay, a trappiste ale. Goes in smooth, with a full yet uninvasive aftertaste typical of abbey beers.
- Stouts have competition now. I wasn’t really into beer when I last tasted a Porter, so this one was a total rediscovery.
January 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I usually write on my resumes that I am a very organized person. My friends and relatives are quick to laugh if off and give me examples such as my car and room to disprove my affirmation, but ultimately, I really do think that I’m a person who likes structure and order. One of the examples I give regularly to demonstrate my organisational skills is the tidiness of my iTunes library. I put lots of care in keeping the ID3 tagging clean, which consumes a lot of my time. Title, with the features in brackets, artist, album with the catalog number, label, year, and genre all have to be there, and in the format that I specify. And for most of my life, I’ve been satisfied with the state of my music library.
As my Last.fm account shows, the last year of music for me has pretty much been centered on drum & bass and dubstep; lots of it. I find it wonderful that both scenes, as well as other niche music scenes, are exploiting the new technologies and services to spread their art, such as independent online music stores or even by their own means. This more “grassroots” means of distribution does have it’s drawbacks though, and one of these that seriously ticks me off is the artist’s apparent inability at correctly tagging his or her works. Countless times, on anything from a two song EP to a full album, I’ve seen ID3 tagging with no capitalization , the artist’s name in the title field, or tracks that just weren’t tagged at all. Such outrageous slacking usually results in me taking of my time to modify the tagging, track by track if necessary. It isn’t bad for EPs, but for 40 track mixtapes, it’s a whole other thing. There must be a better way, right?
Robotdeathsquad on Twitter recommended Tuneup, a product which I had previously seen in contextual ads but never really checked out. Knowing that Mr. Clark and I both share a taste for drum & bass and old-school jungle, and assuming (wrongfully?) that he owned the software in question, I went ahead and bought the Gold version for the asking price of 30$USD. I didn’t want to mess with a limited number of lookups on my enormous library, and besides, it got good reviews everywhere, so it should be ok, right? Boy was I wrong.
I installed it, got it running. Integration with iTunes, while not perfect, looked intuitive enough, with illustrated menus that you can drag music to when it needs a little bit of tag cleanup. I fire up a first batch… disappointment. Out of the ~400 songs that I had it analyse, only a handful were actual detected right, leaving me hundreds of items to be verified by hand, and most of those were dead wrong. In some cases, songs were detected as parts of compilations that I do not own instead of the actual EP or LP. I tried to see the bright side of things: if it can detect at least the album art correctly on my library, then I can at least feel like I payed 30$ for album art. But no cigar, very little of my album art was recognized, and most of it was of quite poor quality.
But all in all, I can’t really blame TuneUp. After all, like all the other services of this kind, it relies on the Gracenote database, and god knows that such a database is nowhere even remotely close to being complete, with the outrageous quantity of music coming out of everywhere. Expecting TuneUp to recognize the latest EP from this obscure Future Garage producer or that guy’s fresh-out-the-oven dubstep album is unreasonable, but honestly, I still expected it more than just a handful of matches. Stuff like old-school drum & bass, while it hasn’t and will most likely never gain mainstream popularity, should be in Gracenote’s databases by now.
After a bit of reflection, I came to question TuneUp’s very existence. Who is this software for? People who buy their music online from more mainstream sources like the iTunes store already get proper ID3 tagging. People who buy CDs in physical format usually don’t bother ripping them because they have other means to listen to them, and those who do most often do it with software that already does analyses and lookup of tagging info on the Gracenote databases, like iTunes or Songbird. People who still buy 12 inchers… well they generally spit on digital music as much they can, or rip it and tag it themselves if they finally understood that this is the 21st freaking century. So who is TuneUp for? Music pirates, they’re the only group left. Music pirates who get their music from shit sources, or music pirates who are too lazy to tag, that’s who.
So hey, if you steal pop music off the internet, TuneUp will work wonders for you. But otherwise, you might want to try out the free version before buying like I did. Remember what your momma told you: if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. There is no such thing as automagic.
January 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Two weeks later, I finally wake up and compile the iPhone pics I’ve been collecting over the holidays… I’ve had more than enough pictures to continue my weekly tradition, but the TWiP just slipped out of my mind. So, without further ado, this week’s pics taken with a Kaimal Mark II on Alfred Infrared, from left to right and top to bottom.
- The Godefroy’s bar has a particular name that’s sure to make anglophone patrons giggle.
- Kicking it old school with old friends. Playing console games, eating chips and enjoying a fine lager.
- I’ve seen many neckbeards in my days, after all I do attend CEGEP. But this particular one is my favorite. Doum’s the owner of this particular specimen.
- A truck was carrying a couple of those tanks the other day, right on the city’s largest boulevard. I never managed to find out what they contained, but the skull and crossbones seems like a good indication that’s it’s something dangerous.
- Mackin’ the ladies with straight up class. It always works.
- With Wu-tang and this board game, your children are pretty much set for life.
- Poutine is awesome. What happens when you add steak to your poutine. Things too great to be described with words..
- Apparently, this gentleman has not been made aware that you need to stop drinking when alcohol begins to affect your posture.
- Dupuis brothers. Hardcore stuff.
Count this as this week’s TWiP as well… the regular schedule will come back next week.