The Last Particle Debris

| Particle Debris

Next week, Particle Debris will be back, with slightly different labeling, but the same as it always has been: a curated list of technical news and analysis in the Apple-tech-sphere that didn’t quite make the TMO news but will bring out the true geek in you.

What will be different is that it’ll be a named column. And what that will do is give me the freedom to create better, longer titles. After all, what other column has the name and date embedded in the title itself? So you’ll have to watch for the column by it’s badge in the red chiclet rather than just scan for the title. Or just use the pull down in the pastel green TMO tool bar called “features.” Or just rummage around the TMO home page on Friday afternoon, as always. You’ll find it.


We all know that Apple is reluctant to get into specsmanship, the art of detailed and competing specifications. The company only publishes the specs that it thinks will matter to customers and, maddeningly suppresses other information only of interest to geeks. But as we move into the world of consumer tablets, like the Kindle Fire, the idea of specs has taken an odd turn. First, knowing that customers don’t care about or understand specs, some writers have declared the death of the spec.

Taking the idea of no specs to its humorous extreme, Dan Frommer has compiled this only-the-really-important specs comparison chart for the Kindle Fire and the iPad 2.

But the funny thing is, specs do matter. They matter in spades. When a product is so cheap, in order to capture a mass market, that it has to use bottom of the barrel components, the effects ripple throughout the user experience. And the impact can be staggering. For example, here is a rip-roaring, totally condemning, punch in the gut, no holds barred, blistering review of the Kindle Fire by Marco Arment. “A human review of the Kindle Fire.” Mr. Arment is beholden to no one, and so there are no excuses or glossovers here.

Kindle Fire Kindle Fire, slow and losing money fast

In the world of data storage, do you know the difference between redundancy and backups? Many casual users think that modest redundancy is a backup, but they’re wrong. And being wrong about your data can lead to awful pain. Stephen at Other World Computing’s blog has a very friendly and clear explanation worth your time. Even for those of you who think you know, but need a refresher. “Take It from a Tech: RAID ≠ Proper Backup.”

Previously, I have mentioned that a fully loaded Mac Pro with 12 cores and the right video card(s) can achieve a theoretical teraflop (TF) of performance. As a point of reference, the first U.S. supercomputer to achieve a sustained teraflop (10^12 floating point operations per second) was the ASCI Red supercomputer at the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico back in 1997. So I found it interesting that Intel is now talking about a teraflop of performance on a 50 core chip with a 22 nm process. It’ll likely be first aimed at supercomputer laboratories, but you can be sure the technology will drift onto the consumer desktop. Right now, our desktops are capable of about 20 GF per core.

ASCi Red, Sandia

ASCI Red, Sandia National Laboratory. How about this on a chip?

When these systems are first developed, there’s the theoretical calculation of speed, then some basic code to test the system, then Linpack (a supercomputer speed benchmark) is nursed along, and finally, some real world computations are achieved. So the hot news always predates practical use. But here’s the best part. A birdie whispered in my ear that an ARM chip may beat Intel to the 1 TF punch.

I surmise, but I could be wrong, that Boxee and Google TV are having a hard time selling hardware. But Boxee just keeps pulling out the stops to create a compelling product. (Or maybe it’s sheer desperation.) Anyway, this week Boxee announced a new dongle that you can plug into basic cable, then the Boxee box to obtain, live, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. Coming in January. But you can’t record. This goes a long way towards solving the cord-cutter’s problem: local news and sports. Here’s the story from the Boxee blog. “Boxee Live TV is coming. Time to cut the cord.” Any interest in having me review it?

Boxee Live

Boxee Live TV

We’ve been hearing rumors that started, last year I think, about how Apple might be thinking of moving away from hot and battery hungry Intel chips in its MacBooks, especially the Air. It turns out that those rumors looked to be true, and here’s one of those juicy behind-the-scenes stories from Chris Foresman at ars technica: “Why Apple rejected AMD’s Llano in the MacBook Air.

I admit it. I am a Charlie Brown fan. I’ve loved the Charles Schulz comic strip and TV adaptions for, well, since forever. So what would you think about having “A Charlie Brown Christmas” app make an appearance on your iPad? Here’s the scoop from Mashable: “Given the amount of pre-existing Charlie Brown Christmas media, it would have been easy for Loud Crow to phone this one in. It didn’t. The app is beautiful and designed down to the last detail to mimic the interaction of a real pop-up book, while also adding true digital features.” Read about it here: “’A Charlie Brown Christmas’ Makes the iPad Feel Like Magic.”’

Finally, here’s a guy who’s after my heart. He starts with the premise that Microsoft’s Surface technology, while apparently stillborn, is the hidden prospect behind what we really want to do with full sized tablets for content creation. I’ve talked about this before in reference to the computer system in the biolab on FOX’s Terra Nova TV show: really big digital “drafting boards.”

Terra Nova

It’s coming soon. And not in the year 2149. (Source: Fox, Terra Nova)

Here’s the analysis from Peter Meyers, and the title says it all: “What we could do with really big touchscreens.” This is doubly interesting because it was published at O’Reilly’s blog:, which is also itself one of the Internet’s coolest URL rib-ticklers. But you have to be a fan of the TV show M*A*S*H to get it.

Okay, phew! Done. Was that enough geek delight for your Saturday morning? See you next week.

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The Last Particle Debris? Not! funny.

Enough to make one reach for the Nitroglycerin.


Yeah, agreed. Your column is something I look forward to every Friday, John. Don’t do that to us. wink



Agreed, mhikl and Jamie! I had the same reaction.


John, everything you write about the Boxee Live TV dongle is true except the most compelling part: “Right over the Internet.” I looked at the photo and wondered why there was a standard coaxial RF connector. After following the link I know (Boxee’s description, my emphasis):

“It is a Live TV dongle that lets you connect an antenna to your Box to watch channels like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in HD with no monthly fee.”

So for most people this just means you can watch your over-the-air channels without switching inputs on the TV.

Lee Dronick

John, everything you write about the Boxee Live TV dongle is true except the most compelling part: ?Right over the Internet.? I looked at the photo and wondered why there was a standard coaxial RF connector. After following the link I know (Boxee?s description, my emphasis):

?It is a Live TV dongle that lets you connect an antenna to your Box to watch channels like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in HD with no monthly fee.?

So for most people this just means you can watch your over-the-air channels without switching inputs on the TV.

It looks like my EyeTV dongle.


When I opened my TMO email newsletter late this afternoon, the first thing that caught my eye was “JOHN MARTELLARO’S BLOG: THE LAST PARTICLE DEBRIS.”

I can’t type out loud, the words that escaped my lips at that moment.  I closed my email because I didn’t want to find out the details, certain that it was all bad.  Now, I can say, “whew!”  Congrats on the new column John, but please, please don’t ever write another headline like that again.

EDIT:  I just click on my profile, and discovered that I joined TMO over 10 years ago, but it seems like about four years.  Why does time compress so drastically when you get older?

John Martellaro

Lee. I read too fast.  Fixed for the record.  Thanks.



Nice touch with the title. My first reaction, ‘There’s got to be more to this than is apparent in the title’, and I’m delighted that that is the case, but commiserate with my co-readers. I look forward to this weekly wrap-up of tech treats, most of which I have not read.

I basically agree with Siegler’s take on specs. I view this, however, as evidence of both a maturing industry and, more importantly, a maturing client or customer base. The auto industry is a case in point of an industry that enjoyed a very gradual trajectory. There was a time when manufacturers’ sales pitches were all about specs (raw HP, 0 - 60 split times, turn radius, and later, mpg - just to name a few). Along the way, spec-heavy adverts gave way to the owner experience, which included warranties, reliability, services, safety, resale value, and increasingly, the capacity to integrate other personal technologies into the car, etc.

The car has become less of spec-fuelled novelty, or a tinkerer’s toy, and more of a tool in which convenience and performance consistency are valued over specs. Rather than being viewed as naive or tech-illiterate, customers searching for these features should be viewed as mature clients who are after a life-enhancing tool and not a diversional hobby. It has taken some time, but it is good to see this trend in computer purchasing practices, which appears to have been the case for tablets and smartphones from practically day one - likely because customers entered that space with relative maturity following their computing experience.

If there is one spec that customers will continue to value, I would say it is reliability (a feature really, and not a spec), which is seldom, if ever, purchased on the cheap.  I admit, however, the specs on my laptop are important to me, but in the overall context of digital management. The ecosystem, and not the specs, are the driver of purchase.

Also enjoyed OWC Stephen’s piece on RAID not being a proper backup. In my line of work, I live and die by the quality of my backups, and practise triple redundancy. I still recall, with deserved shame, the one time I travelled without a backup drive and my laptop’s hard drive failed. Fortunately, Mac Medics, where I am a regular client, was able to retrieve the data (which I was confident they could), but not before, having asked me matter-of-factly to handover my backup drive and getting a negative response, the manager gave me a ‘Really? We know you know better than this; after all, your work is important’ lecture.

Concur with Peter Meyers on touch screens as the future, that and true voice interface with audiovisual output.


Was that enough geek delight for your Saturday morning? said John M.

Yes Siri. One requiring a break for a second breakfast and another pot of coffee. I am one satisfied customer.


“I surmise, but I could be wrong, that Boxee and Google TV are having a hard time selling hardware.”

You surmise this about Boxee based on what? A feeling in your little toe?

Unlike Logitech’s Revue, D-Link (who manufactures and sells the actual hardware) hasn’t slashed the price in half to dump remaining inventory nor have they “abandoned” the product like Logitech.

In fact, as you point out, Boxee is adding capability (for OTA reception and clear QAM cable, most likely via the Hauppauge HVR-950q USB dual tuner) via hardware and continues to update the firmware. You call this an act of desperation and again I ask, based on what?


I’d like to see a review of the Boxee Box.  Still the best as far as an “all media” solution..


I?d like to see a review of the Boxee Box.? Still the best as far as an ?all media? solution..

I?ve been thinking the same sort of thing; only all possibilities, their plusses and negs regarding online use. I have been thinking of re-breaking my ATV1 or even getting an ATV2 if the break thing works our even better. But in the meantime, info reviews would be great.

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