Apple Introduces New iPhones, Software

Some of the fun writing I get to do at work:

Today was the day many Apple fans were waiting for, as CEO Tim Cook took to the stage in the new Steve Jobs Theater to introduce the next generation of the iPhone and Apple Watch families. The iPhone 8 and iPhone X are the latest new phones, and they both pack a lot of technical punch…

Read on at: Apple Introduces New iPhones, Software – IT Connect

Capitalism Lab is an Obsession

For a very long time, I have had a fondness for simulation games. Roller Coaster Tycoon was of course in heavy rotation in my computer in elementary/middle school. I’ve spent hundreds of hours building in SimCity 4 and it’s spiritual successor Cities Skylines. Let’s not mention the 2013 SimCity reboot. I used to scour the web looking for long-lost simulation games for all kinds of weird stuff. I actually enjoyed the buggy SimIsle I bought from the school book order in fifth grade. From city-building to truck driving, I’ll play almost any sim game.

The value software section of Walmart was always a treasure trove of these sim games that didn’t quite make it but had enough of a following to keep around. I never had the best computer growing up, so these games were just about guaranteed to play on whatever I had at the time. One near-obsessive hit with my middle-school tastes was Hard Truck 2, where you traveled around a fictional area delivering shipments in trucks you were always looking to upgrade. It was heaps of fun and eventually got me into the truck sims currently made by SCS. But notice I said near-obsession, there.

My current sim obsession began in probably late middle/early high school and continues to this day. Another find in the Walmart software section introduced me to Capitalism 2. At the time I had never even heard of the first Capitalism game. Introduced in 2001 with graphics already dated for that time, it was a hardcore business simulation game. There were all kinds of options. You could simply build real estate and reap the slow but constant profits. You could be a captain of industry and manufacture goods. You could build a retail chain to sell other products built by other companies in the city you were in. The sheer number of ways you could play the game was intoxicating. I played for hours and hours. The dings and dongs of certain events are still seared into my brain. 

As the years went by, I continued to play. But what was initially a huge challenge was now more repetitive. It got almost boring. Almost…

About a couple of years ago I found a digital copy of Cap2 from the wonderful GOG.com to replace the ancient and heavily scratched CD I bought years before. I started playing again and started looking at forums of other folks who played the game. That’s when I found Capitalism Lab. Apparently the original publisher was still developing a new, expanded version of Capitalism 2, with more features and the ability to add mods. I immediately paid for it and my obsession returned in full-force. 

The already complex financial and economic environments in the game have been made even better and the addition of mods allow new business like oil refineries, alcoholic beverages, and a whole lot more. Usually, a top-down 2D game like this has a hard time keeping the attention of modern gamers. Somehow, though, this game keeps pulling me back into the fold. How can I win next time? I’ve played retail for a long time now, what would happen if I spun off that division and moved into manufacturing? Stock issuances, dividends, mergers and acquisitions, it’s all there. I’m not really a business guy at all. But this is no risk. A good simulation of a very complicated and risky real-life landscape with no risk except being booted by your shareholders and starting a new game makes it fun. I’m sure I’ve learned something useful at some point in my hours of playing this game. I’ve read that they have even used this game in business schools.

An MBA candidate I’m not, but you really don’t have to be to get a kick out of this game. 

2016 Year in Review

And here we are once again at the closing of another year. Not too many posts separate my ’15 YiR with this one, but it’s still been one hell of a year. 

I really haven’t talked about the election here since so many other, better-articulated arguments reside elsewhere. I guess my brief opinion on it is that no matter what you think about the electoral system, it has spoken and we’ll have to work with it. Maybe our way of working with it will be totally transforming it. Maybe not. Either way, we have to work the system in order to change it. Trump will either redeem himself or absolutely ruin himself. I personally think that a resignation could be in the cards. Anyway, for better commentary on this, go to someone else’s silly blog.

In my own life, things have been going well. My job is still going great and my role is gradually maturing along with the whole new IT structure. My team is cementing itself as an essential part of the overall department’s processes. I’m very proud of what we’ve done there. Personally, things are still good. I mentioned my coming-to-terms with anxiety last year and that’s still a continuing and successful process. I feel like I’ve finally gained control of the tuning knob on my brain’s radio. Odd, I know, but it’s the best way to explain it. I’m proud of what I’ve done there.

Of course, friends and family have been great, too. New jobs, new houses, all kinds of cool stuff happening. My folks purchased their eventual retirement property in Arkansas last December, and remodeling has been moving along whenever they get a spare weekend. Arkansas is a beautiful place that moves at a different pace. It’s always refreshing to visit. Dallas can still get on someone’s nerves pretty quick for a “world class city.”

Overall, 2016 has been a wild ride of progress, setbacks, and political memes. 2016 didn’t go how a lot of folks wanted it to. I’d have to agree. However, we’re still here, and here’s to 2017.

Amazon: The Company that Can’t Figure Out Music

It’s embarrassing, really. Here we are with one of the largest retail companies ever conceived by man. A place where from your internet-connected device you can order anything from books, electronics,  to mincemeat, to fifty-gallon drums of personal lubricant. You can also buy just about any album in physical form whether it be brand-new or something long out of print. It’s the Sears Roebuck of my generation, and it’s done a pretty good job to that effect.

Naturally, as any online retailer does, Amazon tries to branch out into the digital distribution realm. They’ve done okay on the video side of things with a decent offering for Prime subscribers. Software purchases are also very smooth, with many games even working with Steam out of the box. Music streaming, however, is where Amazon fails miserably. And they fail in a way that a company known for innovation really shouldn’t.

Amazon recently introduced their revamped Amazon Music service, boasting millions upon millions of songs available on all of your devices. As a guy who has jumped from one streaming service to another, I was hopelessly intrigued. The size of a service’s library isn’t much of a selling point these days since most services now have similar catalogs and most of those services have ways to mesh your personal library with theirs.

I thought that Amazon Music would grant me that same luxury. I had used their previous iteration of streaming service in the past, which was then less miserable. It allowed me to sync my library with Amazon’s. The issue? Hundreds of duplicate items in all of my playlists. A pure clusterfuck. I then went to Google Music with little to no fuss. With the new Amazon Music, the duplicate issue didn’t seem to appear, since you now have to pay a new yearly fee to have your library synced. On top of my Prime subscription, I’d have to pay an extra $25 a year to store my songs, even though I already have an amount of cloud storage that could accommodate it.

The abysmal desktop application did not help my understanding of this fact. In my attempts to sync my library, no progress notifications were provided. The user interface twitched, brightened, and faded with each tiny movement of the mouse. It crashed a couple of times. My first few attempts to log in were unsuccessful. Downloading and uploading playlists was a frustrating experience.

This isn’t how Amazon usually does things. They usually work on a project obsessively until it’s to their satisfaction. Amazon Echo is a perfect example of what they can do right.  So what the hell is wrong with Amazon Music? I think they believe that a vast library will solve all of their problems. It won’t if it sucks to interact with that library. In my many and almost obsessive jumps across streaming platforms, the one that always gets my repeat business is Spotify – because the software is good! It treats my personal library not as an afterthought, but almost as a friend. It’s seamless. Google Play does a similarly good job. It’s infuriating that Amazon can’t equal this with all of their resources and built-in userbase in their Prime customers.

Here’s what they could do. Go ahead and charge Prime customers for the actual streaming service. Don’t further nickel-and-dime them for storing their music. Go ahead and charge the non-prime folks for that. Make desktop and mobile applications that actually work. I’m pretty sure that most of the population of the Seattle-Tacoma area are Amazon developers, so use ’em.

In the meantime, stick with Google Play or Spotify, ’cause Amazon Music is the very definition of a hot mess.

Is Mitsubishi the Last Quirky Car Company?

The Diamond Star brand has been suffering as of late. Boring cars. Ho-hum marketing. A huge fuel economy scandal dating back to the early 1990s. Mitsubishi is now frequently in the news and speculation as to its fate is rampant in the blogospheres. Nissan has purchased a controlling stake in the company at fire sale rates. That worries me.

Why? Because in my humble opinion, Nissan stinks. On top of that, they’re owned by Renault, the equally crummy French car company. The bargain purchase of Mitsu has granted them market penetration in Southeast Asia, as well as more R&D resources. However, this move may kill off one of the last “quirky” car companies around if we’re not to include North Korea’s Pyeonghwa Motors.

I may be a bit biased here since I’m a Mitsubishi owner myself. Behold:

Mitsubishi Mirage

I bought this little bastard a few months ago. Three cylinders, 76 horses, manual transmission. Most other car companies would laugh in your face if you were to suggest this car to anyone. Hell, I would have laughed too. It also looks like the nameless generic car you see in car insurance commercials. In the few months I’ve had this car, however, I’ve fallen more and more in love with it. It’s a car that looks and drives like it has something to prove, and it does. It’s here to prove that Mitsubishi, despite their hardships and sparse lineup here in the States, can still crank out an efficient, well-thought-out car. I’ll totally agree, it’s a fucking strange car. The engine compartment wasn’t painted to save costs, so below the hood is a mess of overspray and gray primer.

I’ll totally agree, it’s a fucking strange car. The engine compartment wasn’t painted to save costs, so below the hood is a mess of overspray and gray primer. The storage compartment cover is attached to the back hatch by one lonely piece of string. Bluetooth streaming only works on the front two of the four speakers. The tires are 14 inches. It’s strange as hell. Mitsubishi probably knows full-well how odd this little car is. They’re no stranger to strange cars. For examples, we have the funky Mighty Max/Dodge Ram 50 pickup, the legendary Starion and GT3000, the pseudo-luxury Diamante, et cetera.

The Nissan buyout could put Mitsubishi’s quirky side at risk. I certainly hope not, since I think that the Diamond Star still has some innovation left in it with the Outlander PHEV and possible other forays in the EV market to supplement their extremely nutso i-MiEV. Here’s to hoping we get to see it all.