End of the Obama Era

Official portrait of Barack Obama
Official portrait of Barack Obama, by Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project [CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons”
At 11:47a Eastern, Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States.  As that happened, Barack Obama joined the ex-President’s club, leaving behind a legacy that will probably take a little time to truly comprehend.  Just as Bill Clinton benefited from slow-developing policies enacted by George H.W. Bush, it can take years before a President’s actions are truly understood.

I’m not ashamed–why would I be?–to admit that I voted for Obama in 2008 based on his promises to clean up the messes left behind by George W. Bush. And there were certainly messes, not the least of which–but probably the most obvious–was the near-collapse of the economy.  The problems in America, however, were so much deeper.  George W. Bush had presided over an administration which had flouted international human rights norms through its policies of extraordinary renditions, operation of so-called Black Sites and Gitmo, torture, and specious spying on Americans.  Obama ran on a platform that promised to end these abuses, promised to provide greater transparency, and promised to curtail the abuses of the Bush Administration.

So, how’d Obama do?

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LOT–Miix 700 Whack-a-Mole Keyboard Fix

Image courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net, under a CC 1.0 license

I’ve mentioned before that the keyboard on the Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 frustratingly cuts out while typing, which sharply reduces the utility of the keyboard while in laptop mode. It was an irritating problem that I nonetheless shrugged through because laptop mode is not the main reason I got the device. I got the device because I wanted a reliable and relatively powerful tablet.  So far, it has proven to fulfill that role quite well.

Still, the keyboard issues vexed me, so, while waiting for a verdict in a trial last week (we got a mistrial, which–given the circumstances–was a good thing), I started poking around on Lenovo’s website to see if there was a driver fix for the keyboard. At the time, I couldn’t find one. But that’s because I was a couple of days early.

On October 22, 2016, Lenovo released a fix which can be found here. And, lo and behold, it works. Every keystroke is registered, and typing is much more enjoyable.

Lament the Trackpad

But, there’s a downside. The trackpad doesn’t work anymore. Which seems to be something Lenovo anticipated since the second step of the instructions to install the keyboard fix is to install trackpad drivers. Here’s the problem: the trackpad driver didn’t work.  It installed just fine, and when you look at the properties for the device, there are no reported problems.  But it doesn’t respond to touch. Comparatively speaking, I’d rather have a functioning keyboard than a functioning keyboard, since I have found I use the trackpad a lot less with the touchscreen (and hey, iPad Pro users don’t have the option for one at all), sometimes it’s nice to have the relative precision it can provide.  So, the next time I get some free time, I guess I’ll track down what’s going on with that.

Why Police Killings Are a Thing

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A lot has been said in the past year or so about law enforcement officers killing people, with hardly a day going by without some news story on the matter.  For example, an unarmed black man was killed by officers in San Diego just yesterday.

A lot of the controversy surrounding police killings involves separation of governmental powers.  Going through a primer on the three branches of government seems unnecessary to me, but simply put: once the legislature passes laws, and the executive signs the law into effect, someone has to make sure that the laws are executed.  Criminal laws are essentially prohibitions with consequences (i.e., “thou shalt not kill” and if you do, you will go to jail for a long time, or even lose your own life).  That means that the execution of the laws requires some entity to make sure that the prohibited act either never happens in the first place, or–if the prohibited act occurs–the violator is rendered up for judgment.

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LOT-Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 — One Month Later

Just about exactly one month ago, I purchased an open-box Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 from Microcenter here in Houston, Texas.  I discussed my initial impressions about the device, which were quite favorable, here.  A month later, how has the device stacked up?  Has it improved my workflow? Have there been any glaring problems? Do I regret the purchase?  Well, let’s dig in.

The Miix 700 is a Good Size

Moving up from the 8-inch Dell Venue 8 Pro to the nearly 13-inch Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 was a revelation. Five inches is a lot when you’re talking about tablet screens. In fact, the Miix 700 is almost exactly as wide as the V8P is tall.

The Venue 8 Pro is just a smidge taller than the Miix 700 is wide.

The screen is beautifully crisp, colorful, and sharp.  Having a full-HD screen in a relatively small display makes for an incredibly pleasing experience.  While the V8P was serviceable at browsing the web and reading books on the Kindle client, the extra screen real estate means that reading Word documents and PDFs is pleasant, rather than a laborious chore. The small screen of the V8P meant that I was constantly zooming and panning to read documents, which was far from ideal.  That doesn’t happen with the Miix 700.  I can read documents in full-screen mode, and it’s essentially equivalent to reading on a standard sheet of paper.

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LOT–Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 First Impressions

The Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 comes in a nice enough box which includes the tablet, the keyboard, the charging block and cable, and a small instruction sheet.  The first thing I noticed was the oddly shaped plug on the charging cable.

Miix 700 Charging Cable
The oddly shaped charging cable.

See that little notch there? It fits into the USB 2.0 port on the left/bottom side of the tablet for charging. I suspect that means normal USB 2.0 cables don’t work for charging purposes.  Which is a bummer.  Proprietary cables are a pain.

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Law Office Technology–Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700

Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700
Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700

I mentioned yesterday that I was in the market for a 2-in-1 to replace the dead Venue 8 Pro.  Though I mentioned a lot of options conveniently found at the Microsoft Store, I left a different device off the list: the Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700.  This is largely because it debuted in September of 2015, and really didn’t make much of a splash. (Not that any PCs have made much of a splash in recent years…)

A Blessed Surface (Pro) Clone

Microsoft created the Surface line to show OEMs what a 2-in-1 is supposed to be, and has seemingly given its blessing to devices which essentially copy the Surface look and feel. Obviously, there is only so much an OEM can do to differentiate its devices–at the end of the day, you’re basically looking at a rectangle with a keyboard.  Corners may or may not be rounded, and the devices will vary by a few millimeters and grams here and there.  But, for the most part, a rectangle is a rectangle is a rectangle.

When it debuted, the Miix 700–which looks and acts almost exactly like Microsoft’s Surface offerings–fell somewhere in between the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 in terms of price and features.

Surface 3 Lenovo Miix 700 Surface Pro 3
Starting Price: $499 Starting Price: $749 (?) Starting Price: $799
  • 10.8″ screen (1920×1280)
  • 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Atom x7-Z8700
  • 2GB RAM (up to 4GB)
  • 64GB SSD (up to 128GB)
  • Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0; LTE available
  • 1 USB 3.0 port
  • Mini display port
  • microSD card port (up to 128GB)
  • Micro USB port (for charging)
  • Cover port
  • Headset jack
  • 3.5MP front camera; 8 MP rear camera
  • Microphone
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer,  Gyroscope,  Magnetometer
  • Keyboard extra
  • Stylus extra
  • Integrated kickstand with 3 positions
  • 12″ screen (2160×1440)
  • 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Core m3-6Y30 (up to Core m7)
  • 4GB RAM (up to 8GB)
  • 64GB SSD (up to 256GB)
  • Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0; LTE available (maybe?)
  • 1 USB 3.0 port
  • Mini display port
  • microSD card port (up to 2TB)
  • USB 2.0 / charging port
  • Headset jack
  • 5MP front camera; 5 MP rear camera (up to 2MP Intel RealSense 3D)
  • Microphone
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Ambient light sensor, G-Sensor, Hall sensor (magnetometer)
  • Keyboard included
  • Stylus extra
  • Integrated “continuous” kickstand with 0-160° of rotation.
  • 12″ screen (2160×1440)
  •  3:2 aspect ratio
  • Core i3 (4th Gen) (up to Core i7 (4th Gen)
  • 4GB RAM (up to 8GB RAM)
  • 64GB SSD (up to 512GB)
  • WiFi; Bluetooth 4.0; LTE not available
  • 1 USB 3.0 port
  • Mini display port
  • microSD card port (up to 128GB)
  • Cover port
  • Charging port
  • Headset jack
  • 5MP front and rear cameras
  • Front and rear microphones
  • Stereo speakers
  • Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer,  Gyroscope,  Magnetometer
  • Keyboard extra
  • Stylus included
  • Integrated “continuous” kickstand with 0-150° of rotation.

(These were the best specs and prices I could determine based on the respective manufacturer’s websites. If they’re inaccurate, I apologize. Things in RED are an advantage, and things in GREEN are a slight advantage.)

I Found a Bargain on the Miix 700

Brand new, the Ideapad Miix 700 is a strong competitor, price-wise, but ends up being on my but-I-really-don’t-want-to-spend-that-much-on-this-thing list.  For a lot less, I could get HP’s Pavilion x2, accepting its slower processor and taking a gamble on the stylus.  Or, honestly, just leaving the whole thing alone until a new generation of devices comes out.

But last weekend, I decided to finally go visit Houston’s new Microcenter store. (It used to be on the West Loop, which was a traffic nightmare. Now it’s moved to South Rice Avenue, which is slightly less of a traffic nightmare.) I needed to get some toner and photo paper, but ended up discovering that there was an Open-Box special on a Miix 700, which put the price at roughly 40% off. In other words, it was less expensive than the Pavilion x2, including the Active Pen (only $34 on Amazon).

Gut-Check Time.

I had a decision to make. I’m wary of deals that are too good to be true (which this seemed to be). And Open-Box specials can be concerning–was there a specific reason this came back to the store? (The sales associate said that it was returned because it was unwanted, not because it was malfunctioning.) Why was there another Open-Box special for a couple hundred bucks more? (Sales associate did not know.) The manufacturer’s warranty (1 year) still applied, and there was a fifteen-day Microcenter return policy on all open-box items.  So I bit the bullet, bought it, and ordered the active pen after I got home.

Law Office Technology–Back in the 2-in-1 Game

A medieval scribeWith the official demise of the Venue 8 Pro, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for an intriguing detachable 2-in-1 device with a good stylus.  Also, it needs to be larger than the Venue 8 Pro.  For my purposes, eight inches is too small for note taking.

Obviously, Microsoft’s Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 are the market definers.  Even the Surface Pro 3, though it’s over a year old, has compelling features. The Surface 3 is an interesting option, too, being slightly smaller. From HP, there is the Pavilion x2 Detachable 12-b096ms. Huawei and Samsung have also recently released 2-in-1 devices, the Matebook and Galaxy TabPro S respectively.

From my perspective, though, apart from the Pavilion x2, these things get pretty expensive really quickly. For example, the Surface Book, which thoughtfully includes a keyboard and stylus, starts at $1,349 for a Core i5 with a 128GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. To be honest, that’s probably all the computing power I anticipate needing, for now, but $1,349 is far more than I want to spend.  Especially for a device that’s had a spotty reliability record.  (If you really want to, you can go hog wild and max the thing out with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD, resulting in a …….  $3,199 price tag. Still cheaper than the gold Apple Watch, though, so…)

2-in-1 Accessories Add Up

The rest of the devices, though? They’re all missing some key accessories.  And they aren’t cheap to acquire.

  • Surface Pro 4 Base Model (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12.3″ screen)
    • $899 starting price (oddly enough, the Core i5 model is currently on sale at the Microsoft Store for $849)
    • Stylus (Surface Pen) Included
    • +$130 — Surface Pro 4 Type Cover
    • Real World Total: $1,030
  • Surface Pro 3 Remaining New Model (Core i7, 512 GB, 8 GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $1,949 starting price (all other models are out of stock)
    • Surface Pen included
    • +$130 — Surface Type Cover
    • Real World Total: $2,080(!!!)
  • Surface Pro 3 Refurbished Model (Core i7, 512GB, 8GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $1,599 starting price (all other models are out of stock)
    • Surface Pen included
    • +$130 — Surface Type Cover
    • Real World Total: $1,730
  • Surface 3 (Atom x7, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM,
    • $599 starting price
    • Office 365 included for one year
    • +$60 Surface Pen
    • +$130 Surface Type Cover
    • Real World Total: $790
  • Pavilion x2 (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $449 starting price
    • Keyboard included
    • +$60 Active Pen
    • Real World Total: $509
  • Huawei MateBook (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $699 starting price
    • Free Keyboard (limited time offer, normally it’s $129)
    • +$59  MatePen (which includes a laser pointer, so that’s pretty neat)
    • Real World Total: $758
  • Galaxy TabPro S (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $749 starting price (currently on sale)
    • Keyboard included
    • $80 Galaxy TabPro Pen
    • Real World Total: $829

By the time I’ve made the device usable for my wants, I will have spent more than I think is warranted.  Except for the HP Pavilion x2.  I think $500 plus change for a detachable 2-in-1 with a good-enough processor (more on that later, but I’m wary of the Atom processors given how sluggish the Venue 8 Pro became once I updated to Windows 10.)

Stylus Technology Matters

But I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on the Pavilion. It isn’t because it isn’t a really compelling piece of hardware. Yes, maybe it’s slightly heavier and thicker than the other offerings.  And yes, perhaps the speakers on the sides might look a little…wonky. Those factors don’t matter as much to me, though. What I’m most concerned about is the stylus’s digitizing technology.  From what I could gather, it was either home-grown by HP, or used Synaptics technology, which is what Dell used on the V8P.  Given how incredibly unreliable the V8P’s stylus was, I can’t justify spending $500 on something to have it become essentially worthless out of the gate.

Instead, I really wanted something that used N-Trig’s or Wacom’s technology.  They have solid reputations, and aren’t likely to conk out on me while trying to take notes during a client meeting.

Where Are All the 2-in-1 Devices with Stylus Support?

Until this past weekend, which I’ll get to later, a 2-in-1 didn’t seem like something I was going to include in my work routine any time soon.  The utter lack of easily findable information on whether a particular device supports stylus input is another barrier.

The Microsoft Store’s website does a great job of aggregating a nice collection of 2-in-1s which are part of the Signature Edition program. That is, the machines purchased through that program do not have any junk (other than the stuff included as part of Windows 10) preinstalled. What the site utterly fails to do, other than for the Surface line of machines, is tell you whether a given device supports stylus input.  Even Amazon, which has a fine dedicated 2-in-1 section, does not include stylus support as a filter. There are options for operating system (including Windows XP), activity (Gaming, Business, Personal), display size, processor type, RAM size, number of CPU Cores, hard drive size and type, weight, number of USB 3.0 ports, WLAN standard, battery life, graphics type, graphics processor, optical storage, flash storage size, wireless internet connectivity, display technology, brand, display resolution, power consumption, and CPU speed.  But stylus support? Not an option.

It would be nice if there was a repository of which machines have active stylus support, but there really doesn’t seem to be one. Not easily findable at least.  For that, you need to run a Google or Bing search on each individual machine, and hope that the manufacturer’s website tells you the answer. Even then, though, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to learn what digitizer technology is being used. In the end, you have to make do the best you can.

Facebook’s Data Collection–I’m a Late Adopter?

The New York Times recently ran a story (found via Geekwire) on Facebook’s deep trove of personal data that it keeps on people, including its opinion on where you fall on the political spectrum.  While I find it amusing that the algorithm believes I’m politically moderate, I am also amazed at the sheer number of things there are profiles for. Under “Hobbies and activities,” for example, it lists “Duck,” “Firefly” (okay, that was a really good series), and “Herding.” Under “Food and drink,” it lists “Cheese sandwich,” “Garlic,” and “Mustard.”  Fair enough.

And under “Lifestyle and culture,” it includes “Technology late adopters.” This surprises me. After all, I jumped all over the Insider Preview opportunity to try out Windows 10, I try to keep as up-to-date on technology trends as possible (even keeping tabs on Android developments even though I have no Android devices (I don’t think Amazon’s tablets count, really)).  And I bought that danged Venue 8 Pro pretty soon after its release.

Am I Really a Late Adopter?

The more I think about it, though, the more I realize it isn’t that inaccurate. I didn’t really see the utility of text messaging on dumb phones back in the mid-2000s, didn’t understand the appeal of cameras on dumb phones when they first showed up (why would you want to take a 320×240 grainy picture of anything?), and I didn’t get an iPhone until the 5 came out (and only then because my Evo 4G was a piece of junk and I just needed something that would handle Exchange properly).  I prefer the “s” iterations of the iPhone, and I don’t own a smart watch, though the Microsoft Band intrigues me. And while I love the idea of a Smart Home with all my lights, A/V devices, and door locks controllable from some central hub, I’m not certain it would really make an appreciable difference.

Advertising to Late Adopters

The other thing that strikes me about having an advertising category for late adopters is the question of what sort of ads get served to that demographic.  I imagine early adopter advertising is probably fairly easy: “This is the latest and greatest, and you gotta have it!!”  But late adopters probably aren’t motivated by FOMO. So, what does representative advertising for late adopters look like? Something like this:

Typical late adopter advertising? Typical late adopter advertising? Typical late adopter advertising?

Thai (I think)-language based home renovation. Something unintelligible to me.  Dental services,  A chance to win a Starbucks gift card.  And an external battery charger. Okay. Sure.  I mean, external battery packs are somewhat relevant to the technology category.  But everything else..?  I expected ads for clearance gadgets, but if Facebook’s metrics show that late adopters respond to those things, I guess that’s working for them.

In any event, I just find the whole thing amusing.

Law Office Technology–Death of the Venue 8 Pro

Here lies the Venue 8 Pro
Imaged sourced from Sb2s3Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44188845

My “venerable” Dell Venue 8 Pro finally gave up the ghost.  It handled the upgrade to Windows 10 well enough, as I’ve mentioned.  Its flaky and unreliable stylus support, though, bounced it squarely in “convenient diversion” territory. I stopped using it for work long ago, and it stuck  around mainly to pass on to my daughter to mess around with.  My thoughts were that she will like it once she doesn’t need the walled playground of the Kindle Fire Kids Edition anymore.  She’s still pretty young, so I hoped it would stick around for at least two or three more years. I think it’s reasonable to assume that a tablet that doesn’t do much other than browse the web and run Twitter would have no real issues staying alive.

As it turns out, though, the wonky micro-USB port–which caused it to be sent back for repair soon after purchasing it–proved to be the Achilles heel; it just never managed to remain firmly attached to the motherboard. I know it wasn’t a terribly expensive device when it debuted, but it’s utterly ridiculous that something that was otherwise quite well-made would have such a fatal fundamental flaw.  That single port was used almost every single day, and it’s just plain mind-boggling that it failed for the sole reason that it needed to be charged.

I don’t suppose the thing needs much of a eulogy. The tech world has come a long way since the day when the Venue 8 Pro seemed to be something of a revelation. And I suppose that’s part of the lesson learned by being something of an early adopter. Still though, it felt nice in the hands as a consumption device, and it worked well enough in that role, so it’s a shame that it could never deliver on my hopes for it.

Technology in the Law Office–Artificial Assistance

The new shiny-shiny right now is artificial intelligence, and how that can be implemented in the devices we use on a daily basis to help us Get Things Done.  Google, for example, showed off it’s new messaging platform Allo at I/O a couple of weeks ago. Part of the gist of that platform is that you would be have a text conversation with a friend, and one of you would say, “I’d like some pizza.” In would pop Google to say “hey, here are some places that serve pizza. Would you like a reservation?”  Useful, perhaps, but a little surprising considering the lack of love for Clippy.

Sourced from Mother Jones.

Google Now

Nonetheless, artificial assistance through bots, cards, banners, notifications, gadgets and all manner of similar preemptive technology is where the industry is headed.  Of the three major tech platforms (Apple, Google, and Microsoft), Google is reputationally the furthest along in getting information in front of your face before you know you need it. Arriving at the airport? Google Now has already prepared your boarding pass in a Card. Wondering where your package is?  Google Now has already told you. That’s the theory, anyway, and by all accounts, it works pretty well.


Microsoft, too, has gotten into the digital assistant game with Cortana, which comes baked into Windows 10.  (It’s the circle in your task bar.)

Cortana Help Screen

You can also install Cortana on your iPhone or Android phone, and you can talk to it.  It will respond, like Siri and Google Now. But Cortana also suggests things for you to read, and will pop toast notifications into the bottom right of your screen, as well, with calendar notices, reminders, and traffic information when you have an off-site appointment.  It… has gotten better since it launched.


Apple was aware of the need to have Siri do more than tell you it’s raining and cracking stupid jokes.  So  “proactive” features were added to Siri to give you, for example, traffic alerts for when you need to leave for an appointment, and to bring back the left page of the home screen, giving you suggestions on who to contact, and which apps to launch.  Apple’s claimed insistence on protecting user privacy, along with its notoriously cludgy cloud offerings, however, means that Apple tries to do most things on-device. This is alarming to some, such as Marco Arment, who caused a stir a couple of weeks ago with his article, “If Google’s right about AI, that’s a problem for Apple.”

Apple is Doomed

Of course, the past decade has been rife with stories about how Apple is doomed, and all that has happened is astonishing profitability. It doesn’t matter that OS X’s marketshare is lower than that of Chromebooks, and it doesn’t matter that Android devices far outnumber iOS devices–people have purchased enough Apple products to make it the most valuable company in the world right now.  So, yeah, Apple’s probably not terribly worried about this latest problem.

Siri Could Be A Lot Smarter

That being said, Siri is pretty awful, and part of that is likely due to an issue Arment pointed out in a footnote:

“Privacy” isn’t a very good excuse. It’s possible to build tons of useful services and smarts by just using public data, like the web, mapping databases, business directories, etc., without any access to or involvement from the user’s private data. Even more enhanced functionality can be done with the limited set of personal data that Siri already uses, such as location and contacts. Google and others do these sorts of non-creepy or less-creepy services far better than Apple, too — not just the creepy ones.

The other day, I got a Cortana notification on my desktop telling me that to get to court in time, I needed to leave within the next 15 minutes.  It even included a little map that I could click and it would show me my route.  That in itself isn’t what was neat. After all, Siri tells me when I get in my car that it will take about an hour to get to work or home, since it has figured out those locations.

What was neat, however, is that Cortana was able to tell me that I needed to leave even though the only information I put in the “location” field when I added the setting to my calendar was: “56th District Court–Galveston County.” Siri, on the other hand, did not give me a notification, and has never given me leave-now notifications for calendar settings unless I enter an exact address for the location. What Cortana was able to do, and what Siri should be able to do, was figure out that the 56th District Court in Galveston County is at a specific location and give me the leave-now notification.

Admittedly, leave-now notifications are mostly useless to me. I know when I need to leave for appointments,