Archive for January 2019


The Asus FX504 is far better than reviewers think

22.01.2019





Top: The new laptop, just unboxed. Centre: Publicity shots at strange angles. Above: The specs, as told by Windows.

When I think about it, I’ve gone through quite a lot of laptops over the years. The first this century (as there was an Apple II-compatible that I used for some months in the 1980s) was a Dell, ordered online, costing over NZ$3,000 in 2001. That laptop, which is still alive (at least when plugged into the mains), ran Windows Me and I was surprised to see just how small a screen I was prepared to put up with. This was back in the day when I was the only person at the airport lounge with a device; now the opposite is true as I don’t always wish to be glued to a screen.
   There was a HP–Compaq in 2004 that was used by one of my team, and I later inherited it, running it into the ground with a motherboard failure by 2009. I took delivery of an Asus after that (that unit’s still with us, too, now running Ubuntu and plugged into the television), and was impressed by Windows Vista. In my opinion, it didn’t deserve the bad rap that it got. A Lenovo G570 bought off a charity was next, a friend having installed a 250 Gbyte SSD within, so it wasn’t as clunky as you might have expected.
   The laptops I disliked were the Compaq and the Lenovo, since they weren’t bought for me at the outset, and never really suited my requirements. Today I took delivery of an Asus FX504GD from Just Laptops, with a 240 Gbyte SSD within coupled to a 1 Tbyte conventional hard drive for data. It’s running an Intel Core i7-8750H with six cores, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX1050 with 4 Gbyte, and a full HD IPS display. It wasn’t my first choice but Just Laptops discovered a fault while testing that laptop, and recommended this one. I could have had a refund if I chose. The service, I should note, was excellent, especially since I was buying the computer sight unseen, and Des at Just Laptops made sure I was posted about every single stage of the transaction, from the work he had to do and when the laptop got to the courier.
   Of course the review is positive so far, since it’s only hours out of the box. I haven’t trialled it without the laptop being plugged in to the mains, so I can’t give a report on the supposedly poor battery life. But I have definitely noticed more positives than reviewers have let on, though admittedly the FX504s many of them tested weren’t as highly specced. It seems there are some real budget models overseas.
   For a start, the SSD gives decent speeds. I’ve had no issues with the viewing angles on the display; in fact, the type renders beautifully, and while it’s not a match for 4K, it’s still respectable in 2019. In fact, the GTX1050 does a very good job and ClearType works even better here than on my desktop machine (though this could well be down to the smaller 15·6-inch screen). I haven’t even changed the Microsoft default font, Segoe UI, because it actually looks pleasant here. The plastic chassis is fine, since I’ve put up with that on the majority of my laptops. One negative, and this is where I concur with reviewers, is the fan noise, which can be loud when the computer is under a heavier load. I don’t play games but it handles the layout, font editing and photo-editing work that I do, and the fast processor makes life so much more tolerable when I’m on the go away from the office. I’ve found that buying machines destined for gamers helps considerably with the type of work I do.
   The lit keyboard is reasonably good to type on, though generally I dislike chiclet keys. (I had once hoped that the chiclet trend would vanish by the time I had to replace the first Asus; it still hasn’t happened.) The lights turned out to be quite handy in less than ideal conditions in my lounge as opposed to my office. Even though I have long owned a gaming keyboard (a Cooler Master Quickfire TK) where I can turn on the lights, I’ve never seen the need to. I bought that because I make fewer errors with mechanical keyboards; and yes, typing on the FX504 isn’t as much of a joy. Still, it isn’t as bad as typing on many other laptops.
   Finally, I get a decent numeric keypad on a laptop, and the key layout is superior to that on the Quickfire. My other gripe is that I can’t tell when num lock is on.
   The unit feels robust (hence Asus’s TUF moniker, apparently standing for The Ultimate Force, which sounds like a science film narrated by Prof Stephen Hawking—points for those who know the origin of this joke). For someone like me who will use this laptop on the go, it’s good to know that it will stand up to a few knocks, even if I do look after it in a nice case. It doesn’t have the red lines on the case (which might appeal to younger gamers, but not to a middle-aged man).
   Annoyingly, though you can’t have everything, there is no optical drive, something which had once been a non-negotiable. But when I saw the specs and the deal Des was willing to do, that seemed secondary. I could always pick up a separate DVD drive which my partner and I could share, since she found herself sans drive in 2017 when she bought her Asus. If I have to be honest with myself, I only needed that drive a couple of times a year.
   Asus also put every port on the left apart from a Kensington lock on the right: not necessarily the decision I would have made if I were designing, since it would make sense to me to have some things plugged in to the right as well. Once I add, say, a Vodafone USB stick when I’m somewhere without readily available internet, having all the USB ports on a single side could get old really quickly.
   It didn’t take long to install the software that I had licences for, and, importantly, the fonts now match by desktop computer’s. The exercise that did take long tonight was taking everything off the Lenovo, since it didn’t come with installation discs (neither did this Asus, incidentally, which could be problematic five or six years down the line as I had to reinstall the OS on the previous one). I make so many changes to my computers that undoing them, and returning the font menu to stock, don’t bring me much joy. It’s the customizing that’s fun, not taking off the alloys and leather seats.
   Come February there’ll be two laptops for sale as the old Asus and Lenovo will head on to Trade Me. The latter is still acceptable as a workhorse thanks to its SSD, though you may need to be a masochist to buy the former. I feel I’ve future-proofed for a few years now, with a laptop that should suit my working needs.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology | No Comments »


Why Twitter’s stock went down in my book in 2018

01.01.2019

Twitter bird fallen
Pixabay

Of my friends, about eight or nine voted for President Trump. Two voted for Brexit. These are my friends, who I vouch for, who I like. Other than a difference of opinion on these topics, we remain friends. I still think incredibly highly of them.
   Since I know them well, I know a little bit about why they voted their way.
   Of the Americans, some wanted an end to the neoliberal order and hoped Trump would deliver. Others saw Clinton as corrupt and that Trump would actually be better. Of the Brits, their reasons were more complex, but among them were the thought of an unwieldly EU bureaucracy, and the belief that a customs’ union would be sufficient to keep trade going with the Continent.
   None of these people are racists or xenophobes—the opposite, in fact. None of them are hillbillies or gun-loving, NRA-donating hicks, or whatever narrative the mainstream media would like to spin. Most of them would be regarded by any measure in society as decent, intelligent and compassionate.
   I have found little reason to dislike someone, or not vote for someone, over one relatively minor disagreement. If their hearts are in the right place, it is not for me to condemn them for their choices. Indeed, when it comes to these issues, I find that while our actions differ (hypothetically, in my case, since I cannot vote in countries other than my own), our core views are actually quite similar.
   In the US, strip away the hatred that vocal fringe elements stoke, and you’ll find that most people have common enemies in big business, tax evaders, and censorship. In 2018 we have seen Big Tech silence people on both the left and the right for voicing opinions outside the mainstream. My two Brexit-voting friends share some concerns with Remainers.
   Therefore, in August, when one of these American friends wrote a Tweet in support of her president, it was horrible to watch Tweeters, total strangers, pile on her.
   I’m not saying I like Trump (quite the contrary, actually), but I will give him props when he does things that I happened to agree with. If I’ve Tweeted for years that I disagreed with US military involvement in Syria, for instance, which at least one US veteran friend says lacks an objective, then I’m not going to attack the man when he pulls his country’s troops out. However, it was interesting to see some viewpoints suddenly change on the day. Those who opposed the war suddenly supported it.
   I can’t say that I praise him very often, but I like to think I’m consistent. I was also complimentary about his withdrawal of the US from TPPA, something I have marched against.
   And this friend is consistent, too.
   In fact, her Tweet wasn’t even one of actual support. Someone called Trump a ‘loon’ and she simply said, ‘You don’t have to like my president,’ and added a few other points in response.
   The piling began.
   It seems almost fashionable to adopt one prevailing view peddled by the mainstream (media or otherwise) but there was no attempt to dissect these opposing views. My friend was measured and calm. What came afterwards did not reciprocate her courtesy.
   Since I was included in the Tweet, I saw plenty of attacks on her that day. I was included in one, by a black South African Tweeting something racist to me.
   When the mob goes this unruly, and it’s “liked” or deemed OK by so many, then something is very wrong. These people did not know my friend. They didn’t know why she supported Trump. They were just happy to group her in to what they had been told about Trump supporters being ill-educated hicks, and attacked accordingly.
   Call me naïve, but social media were meant to be platforms where we could exchange views and get a better understanding of someone else, and make the world a little better than how we found it. The reverse is now true, with Google, Facebook et al “bubbling” data so people only see what they want to see, to reinforce their prejudices, and having been convinced of their “rightness”, those espousing a contrary view must be inhuman.
   I don’t like dominant viewpoints unless it’s something like ‘Intolerance is bad’ or a scientific fact that is entirely provable, though you could probably take issue with where I draw the line. Generally, I like a bit of debate. No position is perfect and we need to respect those with whom we disagree. That day, Twitter was a medium where there was no such respect, that it was OK to pile on someone who fell outside the standard narrative. To me, that’s as unhealthy was a socialist being piled upon by conservatives if the latter group’s view happened to prevail. It doesn’t take much imagination to extend this scenario to being a Chinese republican in the early 20th century in the face of the Ching Dynasty. I’m always mindful of how things like this look if the shoe were on the other foot, hence I was equally upset when Facebook and Twitter shut down political websites’ presences on both the left and the right wings. We should advance by expanding our knowledge and experiences.
   It encouraged me to head more to Mastodon in 2018, where you can still have conversations with human beings with some degree of civility.
   And, frankly, if you disagree with someone over something relatively trivial, then there is such a feature as scrolling.
   Twitter became less savoury in 2018, and it has well and truly jumped the shark.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, politics, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


2019: replicants beware

01.01.2019

Quick Tweet for the Blade Runner fans.

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Posted in culture, humour, USA | No Comments »


Capturing a buyer: some advice to Renault New Zealand

01.01.2019

2017 Renault Captur

On this Pope Gregory Arbitrary Calendar Start Day, I wrote to a contact of mine at Renault New Zealand.
   In mid-2018, I joked that, since Renault had no dealers in Wellington (never mind what’s listed on their website—the only people who can see a dealer there are psychic mediums), I could sell them out of my house.
   Today, I may well have gone some way toward doing that, as someone I know would like a test drive of a first-gen Captur after I put it into her consideration set. After all, I put my money where my mouth is with Renault, so when I recommend one, I do so with some authority.
   In the same note, I detailed some observations about Renault New Zealand’s marketing. I have since forwarded it to their top man in the country.

   • Renault NZ’s marketing has been really stop–start over the years. Every time it feels like there’s a revival, there’s a ra-ra moment that lasts a few months, then nada. Just in the last decade and a half I can think of Clio IIIs being pushed, including a giveaway in the Herald, and the price was right, then nothing. There was some talk about pushing the Mégane III at the turn of the decade, and again it fizzled out. (You may know that in 2010, IIRC, Renault sold 14 cars that year.) The Instagram account itself is an example of a flurry of activity, then it goes quiet for ages.
   • I know within the group there are other brands that management see as more profitable, but I see massive untapped potential. You know you’ve got it right with Captur and Koleos: relative to the promo budget you are moving them, and that says the product is what Kiwis want. It’s worth investing in, and I reckon you should get fans like me, and the South Island club that’s quite active, to help you push it. Land Rover does well with its loyalists in Britain, and I think this is something Renault really needs to do—reach out to us and get some word of mouth going. If I have got you one sale already, there are many others who’d do the same.
   • Kiwis want to see continuity in model lines, which is why the Auris never became the Auris here—Toyota NZ was smart enough to keep the Corolla name going. Fiat’s fatal mistake is letting so many model lines die: not that long ago, it killed every passenger car range in New Zealand in favour of just the 500. Loyalists who bought Bravos and Puntos had nothing to trade to. When the Punto came back—actually a totally different car and a far less advanced Indian import—the goodwill had gone. There’s the same danger here with all those old Mégane, Scénic and Clio buyers of the 2000s. There aren’t many as loyal as me who take matters into their own hands and do a private import. So do think about continuing some lines. Captur will get your Clio buyers, but us Mégane ones have nowhere to go. Fluence was a flop (eight in NZ all up?) but as heated as the C-segment is, not everyone wants a Corolla, 3 or Golf. It might still be worth bringing in lesser Méganes, and the wagon will get those lifestyle buyers. A well-specced wagon would actually have very few rivals in NZ, if pricing and marketing are right (again, get the fans involved). Alaskan will work—but only if we truly see that Renault is here to stay.

   I concluded all that with, ‘And I reckon Hiroto Saikawa is dodgy and he was trying to cover up his own incompetence by framing his old boss and mentor. But that’s another story.’
   Even if I sold one car, I might become the city’s top Renault seller. ‘If you find a better car, buy it.’

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Posted in business, cars, marketing, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »