“Seven Minutes of Terror”

You may have heard that we’re sending another probe to Mars.

Once it hits the Martian atmosphere, it takes about 7 minutes for it to reach the surface.

Mars is far enough away, though, that messages from the lander take 14 minutes. Ergo, by the time we hear it’s hit the atmosphere, it’s either safe on the ground or a pile of junk.

How they plan to manage this is a pretty interesting story. Make time for this today. (Here’s a permalink if you miss it today.)

The Curiosity rover will touch down — or crash horribly — on Monday, August 6, at 12:31 AM.

h/t: The Mant.

HEY CHIEF HEATHEN! Should I buy a new iPhone?

No, not yet.

Apple is widely believe to be preparing the next iPhone (and let’s be clear; they won’t call it the iPhone 5 — expect it to be “the New iPhone” just like the 3rd iteration of the iPad was simply “the new iPad”) for release very soon. While they’re notoriously tricksy and secretive, we can divine at least a little information from past behavior and market realities.

Above all, Apple is certain to want at least one if not more than one new product in hand going into the holiday quarter.

Second, we can look at the release dates and “life spans” of the prior iPhone versions:

Iteration Release Date Duration to next version
Original iPhone 6/29/2007 378 days, or 1.04 years
iPhone 3G 7/11/2008 343 days, or 0.94 years
iPhone 3GS 6/19/2009 370 days, or 1.01 years
iPhone 4 6/24/2010 477 days, or 1.31 years
iPhone 4S 10/14/2011 ?

Third, we can pay attention, just a little, to the rumors circulating now about a September release date.

Many times when we try to read the tea leaves, we get conflicting information.

This is not one of those times:

  • To get product in the channel for Christmas, Apple needs to release the phone in September.
  • The past release cycles strongly suggest Apple prefers to have a model be top dog for about year — n.b. that the 4S release date was basically acknowledged as a delay, and that Apple’s intent was probably to release the 4S in the summer as well. The 4S’ release date? Just about a year ago.
  • Finally, actual rumors are circulating that also say “September.”

So, your iPhone is messing up? Battery life sucks? Screen broken? Tough it out. Mrs Heathen’s battery doesn’t last a whole day anymore, and my home button only works about half the time. But neither of us are at all interested in buying a 4S within 60 days of its replacement, and neither should you be.

I have never before wished AT ALL that I lived in Kansas

Google is starting its fiber rollout; the initial neighborhoods in Kansas City will have the option of a ONE GIGABIT CONNECTION — both ways.

Existing telcos in whatever markets Google identifies are, I’m sure, absolutely shitting their pants. And should be.

It’s possible some of you aren’t nerdy enough to realize how big a deal this is. When I say “a gigabit connection,” I mean a connection that delivers 1 gigabit of bandwith per second. A gigabit is 1,000 megabits. A megabit is 1,000 kilobits.

Initial DSL connections were usually in the 400 to 600 kilobit range for download speeds. Now it’s usually 1 to 3 megabit download and about 0.7 megabit upload, unless you pay extra. Here at Heathen Central, we buy the fattest pipe UVerse will sell us, which is theoretically 18 megabits down and 3 up. In practice, it’s more like 12 to 15 down and 2 up, but that’s normal.

1,000 megabit both ways? Shit yes. Sign me. ATT can fuck off as soon as I get my hands on that, for sure. I mean, Google may be trending towards evil, but AT&T is the goddamn phone company. How much more evil can you be?

Import Update for Mac People

No, not Mountain Lion, though that’s kinda important, too. (Official Heathen rec: As with all major upgrades, wait 3-6 months.)

I mean the all-important question of “what virtualization platform to use?” Since the Mac platform migrated to Intel chips, it’s been possible to run Windows in a window at near-native speeds — I do it all day, even running SQL Server and IIS locally, with completely acceptable performance.

Now, your needs probably aren’t my needs, but few are the Mac folks who don’t have at least one Windows holdout program they can’t quite get rid of. (For my mom, it’s Quicken, for example.)

Up to now, the go-to options for non-techie types were VMWare Fusion, from a company that made its name on server-side virtualization in high-availability environments, and something called Parallels (no link; keep reading for why) from a company that just does Mac desktop virtualization. For me, that choice has always been pretty simple: Go with the guys who do this for a living on lots of levels. They know more.

Historically, Parallels has performed pretty well, too, and in some areas was actually better than Fusion (mostly graphics, which doesn’t matter to me). I generally gave no recommendation to folks beyond “pick whichever of these is on sale.”

That’s no longer true. Parallels, apparently, actively spams its users with in-app advertisements and sales pitches, and makes it very difficult to turn this off, even to the point of deleting messages on their support forums sharing the command line (!) required to do so.

Their statement on the subject is a cornucopia of weasel-words and bullshit:

We use in-product notifications to share several types of information with our customers. First, and most importantly, we share information about product updates which are generally related to compatibility with OS X, new features and product enhancements. Second, we occasionally share special offers from Parallels or other third party companies who provide special deals for our customers. Many of our customers rely on the information about product updates and appreciate the special deals for products that are of interest to them.

Individual notifications can be turned off by clicking the “don’t show this again” button. However, because customers need to receive important product information, there is not a mechanism for customers to completely disable notifications.

This, of course, is a lie; there IS a terminal command you can issue to disable it. That line is:

defaults write com.parallels.Parallels\ Desktop ProductPromo.ForcePromoOff -bool YES

Parallels isn’t shareware or freeware. It costs real money — typically about the same as Fusion, which is nearly a hundred bucks. It’s absolutely inexcusable that they’re insisting on this spamming behavior, and doubling down by (first) lying about the fact that it CAN be disabled and (second) trying to keep people from discovering this truth.

Do not buy Parallels. Send your dollars to VMWare. They’ve had plenty of time to address this; it’s clear this behavior is deliberate, and that they have no intentions of changing. Vote with your money.

(h/t: Fireball.)

Somehow, I missed this AWESOME FACT

In this great behind-the-scenes short from the Hobbit, I discovered that Sylvester McCoy is in the film as Radagast, another of the wizards, i.e. a peer of Gandalf.

McCoy is of course already immortal in fandom as the 7th incarnation of the Doctor back in the 80s; his tenure — the 24th, 25th, and 26th seasons — closed out the original TV series, though he went on to do a TV movie in 1996.

(Giant Nerd Alert: Note that, in Tolkein, wizards are not human beings. They’re closer to angels or demigods.)

Surprise, surprise: Cops abuse the powerless

I for one am shocked — shocked! — to learn that the Border Patrol behaves like this.

Oh, wait. No, I’m not.

Again, the only that that will produce greater accountability in law enforcement is civil and criminal liability for the actual officers. The problem with CBP is even bigger, since their victims are essentially powerless, which has clearly led to a situation where they feel they can get away with anything they want — with predictable consequences.

Welcome to Houston!

You know, I really DID miss the sorts of storms that we’ve been enjoying the last week or so, but I really don’t need them to be so dramatic as to zap my power.

On the other hand, this is the first power outage of measurable length — 35 minutes and counting — that I remember since Ike back in 2008. Let’s hope this one doesn’t go for 4 day.

Also? All hail iPads with keyboards and 3G.

Dept. of Guitar Geekery

Here’s the widely linked video of an employee of the Chicago Music Exchange playing 100 rock riffs chronologically in one take, which is entertaining in its own right, but real music nerds will notice that the truly impressive bit is that he retunes on the fly a couple times.

Anyway, enjoy.