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The iPhone6s+ and battery life

So after a couple of weeks of use of the 6s as a business phone, I came to an inescapable conclusion. The battery just wasn’t up to par for a business phone. I was stomping this phone flat every day, and my headset still had power when the phone battery went into the red. Not a problem I want to have. So, I went to the iPhone6s+, giving the 6s as a long needed but avoided upgrade to Mrs Dr Thinking Engineer. The 6s+ is about the size of my Lumia 1520, so it wasn’t like the form factor was alien to me. Switching to the larger iPhone points out a couple of issues with iOS.

  1. It doesn’t scale very well.  If you look at a 6s and a 6s+ side by side, you will notice the icons are the same size, and the same number of rows, but more space between the icons. Unless you are getting a bigger phone for the ability to see more of your background pic, this is useless.
  2. For the bigger size, the battery isn’t THAT much bigger. Some of the issue is the screen, which always is the biggest power user on the phone. Some of it is just the phone battery itself. I do have to keep a backup battery around using this, something to plug into in order to get a midday boost.

On the good side, Siri is almost as good as Cortana on her good days and unlike Cortana, actually works most of the time. This points out the other thing about all of the current crop of smartphones. With a good headset, the system will allow you to do most things without actually pulling the phone out of your pocket. Add a watch (I have used both the Microsoft Band and the Apple Watch) and you can nearly go all day without looking at the phone itself, depending on your usage profile.

As with all iOS devices, you now get the best Microsoft experience on the iPhone. All of the Office programs run well, the new Outlook is a better mail client than the native one and the more esoteric programs are ONLY available on iOS.  It’s odd, but I guess you go where the money is, and with Win10 Mobile still being a hot mess at best, this is where the users are.

The 6s+ isn’t perfect, but it is, at least for the moment, the best phone I have found out of the current crop of competitors. The 950xl is a disaster, and Android is still not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I never thought I would be using an iPhone for business either.

iPhone6s as a Business Phone – A review

In a previous post, I listed how we made it to this point. Now I would like to talk about using the iPhone 6s (on ATT) as a business phone. I have been using this about 2 weeks so far, not long enough to have all the answers, but I have had a 6 as a backup to my Windows Phone for years, so it’s not like I don’t know the platform either.

My usual rig is a Plantronics Edge BT Earpiece with the phone of my choice. Here, changing from WM to the iPhone 6s was not a big deal. I moved all of my email over to it after loading Microsoft Office onto the phone (much superior to the native Apple mail app in my opinion). My phone book was populated automagically, as I keep my contacts on my paid Google for Business email accounts.

The Good

The iPhone 6s is a fast phone, with good storage (if you pay for it) and a universe of high quality apps to do anything with. Since I have kept an iPhone 6 as a backup, I had not actually missed these apps on my primary phone, but they are nice to have anyway.

Apple has improved their call handling since the last time I tried this. I had previously found trying to juggle a couple of calls to be a problem, not with the iPhone 6s.

Siri can do some stuff at least as well as Cortana (and Cortana is supposed to be coming to iPhone soon)

The Bad

The battery on the iPhone 6s has very short legs. My 1520 could talk my Plantronics headset under the table, with the iPhone 6s the phone is in the danger zone while the headset still has 3 hours of talk time left. Grabbing a bit of charge here and their (even in the car) is much more important here than with the 1520 (which could be pressed to 2 days sometimes). I keep a couple of spare battery powerbanks around, I now expect to be using them.

Not having separate icons for each email account is a major step backward. Having them lumped into one email app is not entirely what I would call acceptable. I will have to work more on this, possibly even getting another app for the lesser emails.

You can’t voice dial a number from Siri, nor take messages. On the other hand Cortana’s ability here seems to come and go depending on which rev you are talking to.

I figure I will continue using the iPhone 6s until the end of the year (at least) when (hopefully) the W10m version will be stable and the new 950xl will be out. After that, may the best phone win.

A funny thing happened on the way to Windows 10 Mobile

I have been using WindowsPhone, Window Mobile, Windows CE (all various names of various versions of Windows for a Mobile Device, possibly a phone) for a long time. I have been using Nokia Cell phones since I moved from a bag phone. When the Microsoft purchase of Nokia happened, I was not entirely unhappy, although I was worried enough that I had picked up a iPhone through a different carrier (Verizon) as a backup. I was using the Nokia E72 at the time, and was quite happy with it, although using the iPhone (as a step up from the iTouch) as a manual repository and backup cell and data signal. So Nokia still brought out the E7, which I got, and which was a disaster. So, I went back to the E72. Then the 920 Windows Phone came out. Looked great, so I got one. After loosing 2 days of business to it (not because of startup issues with me, the damn thing just wouldn’t work), I put my ATT sim BACK into my venerable E72, and went back to work (albeit after buying 2 more). About 6 months later, I tried the 920 again, and this time (after several software upgrades) it worked fine.

So, when W10m started making the Beta rounds, I had been here before.  I knew that it was going to be rough, it would not be suitable for use as a Daily Driver, past performance is not a guarantee of future returns, safety not guaranteed and please keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times. By this time I was using a 1520 as a primary phone and quite happy with it, with a couple of caveats.  My main source of malcontent had to do with email. You could, I understand, using a methodology slightly less complex than launching a nuclear missile, email an attachment file (pdf, in my case). I had been able to do that exactly once, then I kept getting lost about step 25. My second issue was that while you could display excel spreadsheets and word docs, you couldn’t actually edit them. About that time Microsoft started having problems with Windows Phone in general, there was word that they would be dropping the line, the new CEO had rumored commitment issues with WP or WM or whatever, and they also started offering almost all of Office on iPhone and Android. The Outlook App on iPhone let you <gasp> email attachment files. My entire catalog of manuals, the company billing information file that I send out daily, the company W9 even, could all be sent from anywhere I was at, even the toilet (Ok, work/life balance or lack thereof will be the subject of a different post).

So, I picked up a second 1520 to try W10m Insider (beta) on. The 920 that I had was too slow for it, and the 1020 was too good a camera to mess up. So, I got it loaded up, and it was crap. No prob, turn it off and wait for the next version. Which was crap. So I went through that about a dozen times before one of the Insider versions got to a level I thought was worth pulling the Sim in my 1020 and switching it over. That made it my backup ATT phone. Went through about 4-7 more versions and it started running fairly well. About the same time my primary 1520 started having screen problems. Not uncommon with that phone, after a while (almost 2 years in my case) the digitizer starts separating (or at least that’s the most plausible answer I found on the web). So with one phone going down, I decided to try W10m Insider as my primary phone. I would also have the second 1520 as a backup (and I ordered a third one just in case). There were a few problems, but it was usable. It never failed me as a phone, and the email worked fine and OneNote was great on it. I was actually pretty happy with it. The next Insider build put a wrinkle in. The voicemail didn’t register a message unless you rebooted the phone. That was a disaster, I rebooted a couple of times to pick up one message just to find I had missed a second call while waiting for the boot. Then they dropped the “final” build, the one the new Windows 10 phones would be released with. “This”, I thought, “will be the one that gets it all right.” The build release rate had dropped off, so this MUST have been what they were focusing their efforts on. Notsomuch. The release build had the same issue in it.

So, now I was faced with an interesting choice. I could either live with rebooting every 30 minutes or so to check my voicemail, or go back to W8.1m. I instead did what I usually do when presented with a binary solution set, I jumped the tracks instead. In this case I went and bought an iPhone6s on ATT.  This would do 2 things. It would let me try the latest iteration of the iPhone as a Daily Driver in my business, and it would give me a reason not to throw a screaming fit about the issues I was having with W10m, and the Glacial Slowness (pre-global warming) that Microsoft was working on them. If I liked it, I would keep on the new path and re-evaluate W10m at some future date when it had time to congeal a bit (or not). If I found some issue that made it less than usable, I could give this phone to Mrs Dr ThinkingEngineer, who so far had held onto her iPhone4s with the zeal of a Second Amendment advocate to their last pistol.

The results of the iPhone experiment will be detailed in a future post. But, it took the new version of Windows Phone (Mobile or whatever) to drive me back to an iPhone. Like I say, I’ve been here before.

Charity giving and the pitfalls therein

This year, I started the giving a bit early, mostly because of the bombing of the MSF Hospital in Afghanistan. MSF (Doctors Without Borders) is one of my “Usual Suspects” in charity giving, I have given to them for several years. They are a great organization, and I upped the donation this year because of the problems that the USAF caused them. Sending the donation to MSF got me on a roll, and donations to Fisher House, The Salvation Army and Planned Parenthood followed. My donations are based on the good that I feel an organization does, and how well they use the money. Which brings me to the point of this post. How do you donate wisely?

I will ruffle some feathers here, and will preface this by saying that my opinions are my own, you can donate to whomsoever you like and any comments sent here about the organizations that I donate to (or dis) will be deleted with extreme prejudice. With that out of the way, lets proceed.

The first thing I do when thinking about donating to a group is to go to the website http://www.charitynavigator.org

It is a website devoted to gathering all the information you should check on when donating, in one easy site. It gives you information about finances (How much of the money you donate actually goes to a cause? You might be unpleasantly surprised), transparency and pay of the CEO. They also give information about problems with an organization (Red Cross, I am looking at you) and the mission of a group. Giving money without checking on a group might be better than just tossing it out of a helicopter, but not by much.

“What about the United Way” you might ask.  The United Way is an organization I will never, ever give to. I have had too many employers try to force contributions out of me, all to a group that ranges from 2 to 4 stars depending on what location you are in. The ultimate insult was “Your Fair Share”, a proposed giving rate. Let me tell you, when just out of school in an entry level job, “My Fair Share” was, in my estimation, a very damn small number. Nowadays, it’s a pretty large number, but the United Way will never see any of it. On a less personal note, the United Way is a cop out. It is a way to donate, without actually doing any work on where your money goes or how well it is used. Time to jump in the helicopter again…

I don’t like places that have palatial headquarters. The local Red Cross just built a new building, in an expensive part of town. That didn’t come cheap. The local Salvation Army, on the other hand, is in a 1960’s building in the poorer part of town. I will let you guess which one fits my idea of what their mission is.

So, how much should you give? That’s a personal question that only you can answer. My personal number has gone up to about 5% of net income over the years. However, I feel that is probably not doing enough. On the other hand, the people I admire take their own time to work for the charities. Donating your time is a much larger thing to me, and I wish I had the time to do exactly that. Writing a check seems paltry by comparison, but as I have pumped up the amounts over the years, I feel like I am helping somewhat.

My final answer on what you should give? Whatever you are able to, and whatever makes you feel good about yourself. I find that giving money to groups gives me a lot better outlook on life as a result. That makes it cheap, at any price.

The Importance of Airports in Small Towns

I spent yesterday training back up on instrument flying. It is a Sisyphean task, especially in the Midwest. I have been instrument rated for about 12 years. Of that 12 years, 6 of them have seen the plane down,  and most of the rest have been working back up to “comfortable” with instrument flying after an extended period out of the clouds.

My current instrument instructor is also a lawyer (no, really, he is a nice guy), and a graduate of the most excellent OSU aviation program. He has a very good “real world” attitude about flying, he was the first instructor who has us do at least one approach on full automation (and one with all the movie screens turned off) that I have had. Instructors are very much a personal flavor. I have had some really good ones, and some really bad ones. I fly over an hour to train with this guy, just because he and I mesh well. Stay with me, we are getting to the point…

I typically meet up with him in Hope, AR, at airport M18. Hope is a relatively small Arkansas town, mostly famous for being the childhood home of Bill Clinton, and the place (on the airport) where they stored all the FEMA trailers at one point. The airport is a ex-WWII military facility and has the possibility of being quite nice given a bit of attention from the city. Instead, it looks about like what it is, a neglected piece of infrastructure, that the city is making money off of renting one runway out for storage. The runway markings are unreadable, and the runways themselves are in need of attention. In a town of 10k people, in need of additional business injection, that is very nearly unforgivable, considering how much money the airport has and could bring in.

On our flight, we landed at Magnolia (KAGO).  Magnolia is also a 10,000 pop town, but is a completely different town than Hope. There are several small and medium businesses in Magnolia, the town is quite dynamic, and the airport reflects this. There are about 10 hangars, mostly new. The runway is freshly repaved and marked, there is an AWOS II being put in and the fuel is working and reasonably priced. The terminal buildings are fresh and in very good shape. Altogether, it is the type of place that if you were on a quick trip around several towns, in search of a place to locate a business,  you would remember. It’s a showplace for the town, and the first step to luring business into town.

A good airport will always help support a town. A bad airport is barely better than no airport at all. You look at Hope, and you see a town that has given up. You look at Magnolia, and you see a town that is working hard at getting to the next step, whatever that is.

I know where I would want to live…

 

 

Shoelace Length, and solutions

I walk about 4 miles a day on a treadmill (actually a walking desk, an amazing invention. Look it up, it will change your life). For a FAA 170 lb human, shoes are supposed to last about 400 miles. As you get heavier, the mileage you can get out of a shoe drops off substantially. Since the FAA considers me ~1.5 human, my shoe mileage runs about 300 or so miles, meaning I am getting a new pair of shoes about every 3 months. That’s not actually too bad, before my knee replacement (aviation injury, but not nearly as sexy as it sounds) I was walking 10 miles a day and blowing through a new pair every month. I use NB shoes exclusively, besides the company’s attempt at keeping things American made (or at least designed), they have a better selection of widths, and fit better. Bad shoes for distance walking, running or whatever are murder on your feet. I also wear Injinji “toe socks” to keep my toes from blistering each other. But, I digress.

The last couple of pair of NB shoes I have purchased have seemingly had shorter and shorter shoelaces. This is not just an opinion, I pulled one old set and compared them to the new ones. I am not sure if NB is getting shorted by a supplier, decided that they could save a penny or two per hundred shoes or just ran out of longer laces, but the laces supplied with the shoes are no longer usable for me as supplied. I bought a couple of new sets of laces, but then came on a better solution.

On the Internet, there is everything. For people who want to look, you can find recipes, cars, and sites specifically devoted to lacing shoes. My solution to the NB problem is to switch them to straight bar lacing, a method that allows for 28% longer lace ends. With the shorter shoelaces, this comes out about right.

But I would prefer getting the right laces for the shoes.

 

 

So, how good is that Engineering School again?

As the school year starts, I think a bit of a commentary on school quality needs to be made. Schools are in a bit of a pickle these days, and not just because of rising tuition. I am familiar with a couple of schools, but let me rail on one. The school shall remain unnamed, to protect the guilty.

There are, in my opinion, only two factors in the quality of an Engineering School. The quality of the faculty, and the size of the classes. The quality of the faculty is difficult to judge from the outside, but certain assumptions can be made. Young faculty (under 30) isn’t going to have much actual experience teaching, so the students are going to get to learn while the professor does. That may not be the best environment. Watch out for a number of classes being taught by grad-students, or post docs. These can be told usually by the instructor being listed as “Dr Smith” as opposed to “Professor Smith”.  These folks are usually on their first or second class. In a reasonable environment, they will be given notes and previous tests to look at to work up their own material. The lazy ones will just take a problem from each of the previous tests, leaving people with access to previous tests (Greek Houses have extensive test files, although often not of engineering classes) with an advantage. Smart ones will take a problem from each of the previous test and make a subtle change to it, leaving people who have memorized previous tests running off a cliff like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons.

Famous faculty is also problematic. A good friend of mine told me of his days at MIT, where he took a class with Prof. B****, of stereo fame. The only problem was he saw Prof B, one time on the first day of class, and after that, the class was taught by a post-doc. There are at least 3 professors that I know of at a Land-grant school who have paid out for teaching so they could do research. Herein lies a problem. If you took a job at a land grant school, you should know you aren’t going to be able to devote your life to research. You are gonna have to teach. If you wanted to be a researcher full time, you should have gone to Sandia or one of the other national labs. Don’t get me wrong, I have had great professors at land grant colleges. They can, however, be overwhelmed by…

CLASS SIZE

You want to know how good your school is? How big is Thermodynamics I course? If the answer is under 40, you are in good shape. If the answer is under 50, you are ok if it is taught by a real Professor with tenure (hopefully). If the answer is over 50, you have a problem. If the answer is over 70, you need to find a new school, no matter who is teaching it.

So I know a land grant school, with new stadiums and a great sports history. They just scraped past ABET accreditation, so tightly that the student body knew how tight it was. The website says the average class size is 24 in one place (but says “hard to pinpoint” in another). The Thermo I class size was over 80 the last semester, taught by a first timer. If you look at education in “bang for the buck” you are getting a wet firecracker here.  What sort of bang are you getting for your buck?

What I use

Paul Thurott has an interesting habit of posting a list of his current hardware/software that he is using at various times in the year. I thought I would try the same, as my needs as a support/field service guy are quite a bit different than your average user.

Computer(s)

This is the first place that things are a bit different from the average guy. Since I have to handle multiple operating systems going back to DOS, I have multiple computers. My primary computer is a Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10. I have a couple of docks in the office, so I can move from a 3 screen setup to a 2 screen setup on my walking desk. I also carry some portable screens with me on most trips so that I can get full productivity while on the road. I also keep a Lenovo W520 as my “big guy” because it has all the ports. The SP3 has one USB3 port and everything has to go through it. The 520 has 4, and so it’s not a problem to connect up to most anything. I also keep a IBM T40 running Win98/Dos. The 520 gets used a fair amount for jobs that require a full laptop, but the T40 is strictly in a crash bag for service calls where I need the old software. I also have a Lenovo K series desktop with dual video cards and a 1T hard drive along with a 250Gb SSD running Win10 Preview (now Win10). That is kind of my test unit, although I am typing this on Win10 now. I used to be a Thinkpad guy, but I feel since Lenovo took them over, they are more a consumer machine than a professional one.

Software

I use Microsoft Office exclusively, with a Office 365 Business subscription. My personal email goes through this, and my company email is run through Google for Business. I have found that the Google for Business email has exceptional uptime and is quite flexible. I have looked at some alternatives, but never found anything that warranted a change (and the accompanying xfter of 6 years worth of email. For accounting software, I use AccountEdge, for  no other reason than it is what I started out with 20 years ago. There are undoubtedly better software packages out there, but I know (mostly) how to use this, as do my people.

Phones

I am a Windows Phone guy. My current phone is Lumia 1520, which is tied to a Microsoft Band ( I do not recommend this with the Band 2.0 comming out soon) and a Plantronics Edge Bluetooth headset. My mechanic got one, and called me while doing a full power run up on a 300 hp plane with the door open. I asked him why he was shouting, because I couldn’t hear the engine or prop at all, the noise cancelling is that good. My backup phone is a Lumia 1020, which is also my primary camera. Both of these are on AT&T, with my Aux Backup phone being a iPhone6 on Verizon. Having phones on two different networks can be a lifesaver at times. I also use Google Voice for additional lines.

Websites

I use WordPress for websites now, designed by Haden Interactive. I previously used Dreamweaver, and for a while wrote my own websites. The world has moved on, and I find that I am better off with someone else doing this. It still makes me somewhat nervous not having the reins myself though.

 

So, that’s an overview. I will update this from time to time, depending on what I am using and changes that happen.

 

When do you upgrade motion control?

This is a question that I get all the time, related to the “What is Obsolete” question. There are 3 situations where you upgrade motion control (or control systems in general).

1. Absolute Obsolescence.  The controls are no longer available, no longer repairable and the machine is still required. This is a no-brainer. If the control goes down at this point you are dead in the water until the upgrade is done. Wouldn’t you really rather schedule that instead? However, be sure you know the control is actually Absolutely Obsolete, don’t take a used car salesman’s word.

2. Performance Requirement Change. The controls will not perform to a change in specification, or production. This is different from the controls can’t match their previous performance, which may mean a control issue (or mechanical one). Beware speed upgrades, as often times the physical machinery cannot handle the speed increase that production would like.

3. Economic Obsolescence. This one is tricky. I get a lot of “That’s too expensive, I will just upgrade to something newer” in my job. This statement is typically made by someone who has no idea either of what the current system is doing (I had one guy insist that the job that a 3 axis servo system was doing could be done by 3 pwm drives, his replacement called me to get the drives repaired and refitted into the machine), or who has given no thought to the requirements of the replacement. A fine example is TDM series drives. The drives and motors are still repairable, but are expensive to get done. A retrofit looks easy, as the TDM drives take a standard +/-10v servo signal for control, but it turns out that the units also are typically powered by 230 volt, and the motors cannot be run by anything else. So, you are ripping out the drives, motors and cabling, rewiring the cabinet for 480 and reworking the control system to accept the new drive’s ready and enable setups. I have done this in a couple of days with a good electrical crew, but I have been doing this for 30 years too.

The other thing to think of is that the best time to upgrade your servo system is as late in the life of the system as possible. This makes sure of two things. One, you get the money out of the old system, and two, you get as new of a system as possible. Servo systems families typically change every 7 to 10 years, depending on the manufacturer. Upgrading at the year before the entire family change takes place means that a year from now you will have the non-current system. It is a lot like buying computers. This week’s star is next weeks dog, so wait as long as possible and then plant your flag, knowing that soon this too will be a legacy system.

What is Obsolete?

I have a seemingly endless parade of clients who come to me with the first words out of their mouth being “I know this is obsolete, but…” Usually I stop them right there as they have been told that something is obsolete by a competitor trying to get them to buy something. Lying to a client is a particularly short term strategy, I have clients that have been such for 25 years, and they didn’t get that way by me being wrong all the time.

So lets define obsolescence. We can split this into three types, Functional, Economic, and Absolute. Functional obsolescence is what my plane is. It was built in 1979, and has not been built since then. There are parts available for it (a couple of years ago someone built a new one out of new surplus stock). The engine, propeller, wheels, instruments are all built by 3rd party companies and should be available for the foreseeable future. Until the life limited parts time out (which will be past my flying days at the current rate) the plane will be maintainable at a cost comparable to a new airplane of the same class (in some cases cheaper).  Functional obsolescence means that while you can’t get one new, it makes sense to continue to put parts into the existing one. A 2-3 year old car is another example.

Economic obsolescence means that while parts or repairs are still available, it doesn’t make economic sense to continue to keep pumping money into the equipment. The average light truck in the US reaches this point at about the 16 year mark. At that point, enough things start going wrong that pumping money into it no longer makes sense. Why then, are their older trucks on the road? Well, sometimes there isn’t enough time to go buy a new one when you are needing to get something done right then. This is why a number of my clients keep running older equipment, the higher cost of the repairs is nothing compared to the cost of being shut down while an upgrade is taking place. Sometimes the capital isn’t available, but repair money is (1M to upgrade vs 10k to repair). Sometimes there are other issues. This doesn’t meant that the clients are wrong to  repair vs upgrade either. A decision that looks uneconomic in a vacuum (ie, the cost of repair of this part is higher than the cost of upgrading to something else) looks quite reasonable in a production environment (ie the cost of repair of this will be 12k, which is the same as upgrading, but we will loose 12M in production while the upgrade takes place).

Absolute obsolescence is just that. You can’t buy new, you can’t get parts or repairs. Stick a fork in it, it’s done. It’s dead, Jim.

So, as the person responsible for getting product out the door, what do you do? Equipment in Functional obsolescence often times normal in a plant. You can get parts, or repairs, but buying new is no longer an option. This is not something to panic about, or even be worried about, just something to keep in the back of your mind.  Economic obsolescence also is a normal state, most OEMs raise the prices on equipment as it gets older. It reflects the higher cost of building equipment at non-production rates. People complain about not being able to buy a ’65 Mustang still. Leaving out the improvements in cars since then (airbags anyone?), can you imagine the cost of a Mustang if Ford agreed to build you just one? You’re gonna need a bigger check. So older replacement parts will cost more. That doesn’t mean it’s time to replace the machine unless that starts getting onerous. However, what you do have to watch out for is Economic obsolescence turning into Absolute obsolescence. That means you crash into a wall and are now scrambling to upgrade or replace while loosing 1M an hour. Or that your successor is doing the scrambling while you clean out your desk…

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