Technology

For the past three months, my desktop monitor has been a shiny new Seiki 39″ 4K television. That’s right, 39 inches of glorious pixels, 3840×2160 of them to be exact. It works beautifully, and was worth every penny. Serious programmers who want to look at a lot of code at once, I welcome you to do your own research on 4K TVs and monitors and consider one for yourself.

Seiki SE39UY04

However, that is not what this post is really about, because life wasn’t always so easy.

This is where the Christmas story comes in: 8th grade. One of the most memorable Christmases of my life, because this was the Christmas when I got my first computer: a Commodore VIC-20. Hooked up to a TV, it produced a 176×184 pixel display, good for 22 rows by 23 columns of text. But, sadly, it did not start out that way. We had difficulties right out of the box getting the TV synced up, so there was no display at all. Did this stop this budding programmer to be? Heck no. I started typing in my first Commodore Basic program in the blind. Now, let’s not get into the details about how well that program turned out, but suffice it to say, that as far as computer monitor resolution goes, I started at zero.

The VIC-20That’s not me… my screen was blank.

Years later, the VIC-20 would be replaced with a C64, and my pixels nearly doubled. I now had 320×200, and 40 columns of text. They again doubled when I graduated to an Amiga 500 in college and found myself staring at a flickering interlace display of 640×400 pixels. I could see 80 columns of text!

My first taste of wide-column programming was the VT-100 terminal in the college computer lab which I could set to 132-columns. By the way, this annoyed other students who didn’t know how to change the display mode settings and also did not enjoy squinting as much as I did. I should take this opportunity to apologize to those guys, writing Pascal on a VAX 11/780 had enough pitfalls for a college freshman — I shouldn’t have made it worse for them. Another interesting side-note is that the Slick-C command record_macro_end_execute_key() which you might find assigned to Ctrl+Shift+F1–F10 was inspired by the macro recording features of the Eve editor on the VAX.

Terminally beautiful.

In graduate school, I was exposed to Sun workstations with 19 inch CRT monitors that were about the size of a mini-fridge and consumed about as much energy as a Nissan Leaf at a tractor pull. 1152×900 pixels of delightful X-windows wonder. I eventually would trade my Amiga 2000 for a Sun 3 of my own, which became my home computer for quite some time. These were the salad days of C and C++ programming with the VI editor.

Sun 3/60 (pizza box)

When I joined SlickEdit, I moved to Windows as my primary machine and eventually graduated to a machine with a 19 inch 1600×1200 CRT monitor that kept my desk firmly pinned to the floor. This served me well, until the day that SlickEdit started getting daily complaints about how list-members in SlickEdit 4.0 did not work correctly with a multi-monitor setup on Windows. Apparently, the list was coming up on the wrong monitor, and this would just not do. Happy with my one big monitor, I felt like these people were just being silly using two smaller monitors to get about the same amount of resolution, but I begrudgingly set up a dual-monitor configuration on my machine and proceeded to fix the display bugs. What I did not expect was that I would fall in love with having multiple monitors. It allowed me to work faster and keep track of more things at once. I thought I would never go back to a single monitor.

When 17-inch 1280×1024 resolution LCD monitors dropped below the $100 price point, I soon I had four monitors on my desk. This was the most pixels I’d ever had in front of me, but it was not enough, because they were too narrow for DiffZilla. I would eventually replace two of the LCDs with 21-inch HD monitors, one in vertical orientation and one in landscape for DiffZilla.

Where are they now?

All those machines and all those monitors are gone now, dust in the winds of change. 4K is the current zenith of display technology. A lot of people are already using dual 4K monitors, and Apple is shipping 5k retina displays. I look forward to seeing 50 inch curved 8k displays in the future.

The advancements made in computing hardware are normally broken down by speed, memory, storage, hardware size, and cost. Often the advancements made in display and input technology are forgotten. Compare the computer I sit behind today to that VIC-20.

  • CPU — 2.8 GHz vs 1 Mhz — even simplistically measured, thousands of times faster
  • Memory — 8G vs 5k — over a million times more
  • Storage — 1 terabyte vs a 170k floppy — more than 5 million times more
  • Size — actually, about the same
  • Cost — $500 notebook + $339 4K TV vs $199 VIC-20 + cheap TV — adjusted for inflation, a lot less expensive.
  • Display — 39 inch 4K TV vs 13 inch color TV (176×184 pixels) — over 256 times more pixels.

I could tile 252 VIC-20 screens on my current display. That’s a whole screen for every other character the on the VIC-20.

I concede that the gains in the other areas are somewhat more dramatic. But, when you are a programmer, what tends to matter the most to you is how many lines of code you can look at at once, and more importantly, with what degree of comfort you can absorb and navigate through the code. My personal opinion is that 4k has both improved my productivity and allowed me to award myself with a slightly larger font to cut down on eye strain. Given the current bargain prices (less than $400), it was more than worth it.

If you are thinking about buying an iPhone 6 Plus or a Samsung Note 4, this article may help you. Trying to decide between these phones mostly comes down to the software, familiarity with one of the OSes, your purchasing habits (are you invested in iTunes?), and product support.

I have experience using both the iPhone and Samsung phones as well as investigating, pretty intensely, how to get the most out of Android/Samsung apps. I really like how Samsung has copied some of the iPhone software features. For example, the Samsung OS displays badges on your Phone, Messages, and Email app icons just like the iPhone. I’m not a big fan of just having Android centralized notifications. The Samsung OS also has a much more iPhone-like phone app with integrated voice mail. For me, this is also a big deal since many of the Android phone apps are terrible compared to the iPhone phone app.

I have ended up purchasing the iPhone 6 Plus after using the Samsung S3 for 2 years and an iPhone for about 3 years before that. This decision was so close that I’ll be jealous of anyone who has the Note 4.

Are you Capable of Switching OSes?

If you’ve been using an iPhone or an Android for a long time, switching OSes takes time. Unless you are a slightly more advanced user and/or have a compelling reason, I wouldn’t recommend switching OSes. It’s probably not worth your time since both these OSes will get the job done. A number of basic things are implemented very differently like: adjusting the cursor position, copy/paste, and selecting text. I find both the iOS and Android implementations of these important features very good. It took me a while to get used to how my Samsung S3 did these. Where to find configuration settings is very different. Not all iOS apps are available on Android and vice versa. Before you switch OSes, be sure to check if the apps you need are available.

Advantages of Note 4 Over iPhone 6 Plus:

  • Back button at the bottom of the phone. The iPhone 6 Plus needs this for better one handed phone use. The back button has more value than just one hand use too. If you are reading an email which has a URL link in it, clicking on it brings up your web browser. Then you can press the back button to return to your email (not the home screen). Android has an internal stack which the Back button uses. iOS needs this too.
  • The Samsung Note 4 is not quite as tall as the iPhone 6 Plus and has a slightly larger screen. This is partly due to the fact that the Note 4 has a thin horizontal button which takes up less space. At least the new iPhone 6 Plus has a smaller home button than older iPhone models.
  • As you’ve probably already heard, the Note 4 is less bendable. If you put your phone in your pocket, the iPhone 6 plus is much more likely to bend. I don’t keep my phone in my pocket. I used to keep my phone in my pocket until I noticed my hip starting to hurt. I’ve learned the hard way that radiation from your cell phone affects your bodies ability to heal. Once I stopped keeping my phone in my pocket, the pain went away. My body wasn’t able to heal itself enough after my workouts due to the combination of radiation from my cell phone and my age.
  • Easier to configure home screens. I especially don’t like how iOS auto arranges icons. I like my more important app icons to be in very specific places on my home screens and iOS makes this difficult to manage.
  • Menu button at the bottom. The iPhone needs this too but since many apps have buttons at the bottom, it’s not that big a deal.
  • More apps which display lists support multi select operations.
  • Many more configuration options. This is only useful if there’s an option you like and can’t find something similar in iOS.
  • Widgets (like contacts and weather) can be placed on the home screen just like apps. I found the default widgets useless and large so I removed them but I love putting contacts on my home screen. The new iOS 8 double click the home button feature to display recent phone history and favorites is OK. I still would prefer to have some contact icons on my home screen. I suspect Apple will add support for Widgets in a future OS and maybe then iOS will have the ability to add Contact icons to your home screen.
  • Android has more of a typical file system. This is especially useful for copying pictures from a computer onto your Android phone. I really don’t like to use iTunes to import/export pictures.
  • Can root phone. This can be useful for more advanced users. For me, this has very little value. Some Android users root their phone so they can use their phone as a Wifi hotspot. Now, most users don’t need to do this due to carrier changes.

Advantages of iPhone 6 Plus Over Note 4

  • Better support for product. The Apple store offers better support for the iPhone than any other mobile device. If you are a less advanced user, this is a very big deal and arguably makes the Note 4, or any non-Apple device, a no go.
  • Easier to use and configure. More things just work for me with less or no configuring.
  • UI experience. More of the apps I’ve seen have a consistent look and feel with good looking graphics.
  • Slightly better apps. This will be very different for everyone. For me, the following apps are slightly better on iPhone: phone, email, calendar, camera, text messaging, photos viewer, and ScoreMobile (Exceptions: GTasks on Android is a little better than all iOS Google Tasks apps I tried, and Mobi Calculator Free on Android is better than any iOS calculator app I tried)
  • Slightly better one handed use due to the new Reachability feature. I love this Reachability feature. If the iPhone also had a back button, this would make the iPhone a much clearer winner here. Right now, there’s not much difference. I give the iPhone 6 plus the edge because the Note 4’s “One-handed operation” feature is not very good. For me the iPhone 6 Plus is the clear winner here because I hold my phone with my left hand (even though I’m right handed) which makes the back button at the top left of the screen easy for my big mitt to reach.
  • iTunes. If you buy apps, movies, books, or whatever, Apple has a slightly better buying experience.
  • Touch screen. I find the iPhone screen slightly more accurate/responsive.
  • I slightly prefer how iOS does cut/paste with worded buttons near the cursor instead of non-worded icon buttons at the top or bottom of the screen.
  • Speaker on bottom instead of back of phone
  • Security. Arguably better because apps go through an Apple review.

Conclusion

There are many features in both devices I have not mentioned to keep this article short (Family Sharing, AirPlay, Siri, hardware specifics, etc.). I have only mentioned the more basic or significant advantages of either device. I hope this information helps you decide which phone is best for you. Keep in mind that switching OSes can be difficult. You can’t go wrong buying either of these phones.

To mark this year’s Thanksgiving Day holiday, we offer up the following Turkeys. Sure, you can say it’s easy, or even fun to take pot-shots at failed technologies. But sometimes they result in painful trips down memory lane.

PacMan for Atari 2600My childhood recollection is that people awaited the arrival of this game with the same enthusiasm most 4 year olds reserve for December 25th. I don’t recall if the subsequent let-down resulted in any rioting in the streets, but I do remember learning some new vocabulary words from my older cousins the first time they played it.

E.T. for Atari 2600: See above. Downright heartbreaking that one of the best movies of all time should be sullied by this release. 1983 was a dark time indeed for the console faithful. This did at least leave us with a cool urban legend.

Apple iOS Maps: The much ballyhooed replacement for Google Maps on the iPhone most likely lead to the ouster of a long-time Apple executive, supposedly when he wouldn’t agree to sign a company apology. It’s still the subject of late-night talk show jokes.

The HD-DVD Format: Not quite a flop. More of the bloodied loser in the boxing match against BluRay. But Sony had lost the battle between BetaMax and VHS, and was determined not to suffer a repeat.

Ada: Despite having the best intentions, it did not make a dent outside the arena where it was required by law to be used.

SuperMan 64 for Nintendo 64: Our resident player/tester commented that “The only bright spot about that game was that I could turn it off at any point.”

Borland OWL (Object Windows Library): Intended to fulfill the role of the MFC libraries for those who chose to not use Microsoft developer tools. Whenever you see software where the Cancel or Exit button features a cartoon figure bolting for an exit door, blame OWL.

Lisp:  Proving that theoretically good ideas are seldom popular, and also that semicolons are easier to type than parens.

Virtual BoyThe best thing to come from the release of the Virtual Boy was not the headaches or nausea, but that if you actually bought one you now have a valuable collector’s item.

ClippyRemember the days of playing Whack-a-Mole with your word processor, clicking away every few minutes just to get that animated thing to disappear already? The sad part is that the user reaction to Clippy made software developers gun-shy in developing in-application assistants. I hesitate to categorize it as a Turkey. More akin to a Plague.

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