Maybe not a fanboy any more

Over the last one year or so I’ve been on course to becoming an Apple fanboy. I had already quite liked the interface of the iPod touch and the iPad, though I hadn’t taken very well to the wife’s iPhone4. And then around this time last year, she bought herself a Macbook Air.

That was a gamechanger as both in terms of physical specifications and ease of use, it seemed a world away from the Windows laptops that I had at that time. A couple of months later (my laptop needed replacement anyway), I bit the bullet and invested in a Macbook Pro. And I became a bigger fanboy. I even decided last month that my next phone will be an iPhone (I’ve never had one so far).

After the events of the last two weeks, however, I’m not so sure. I was upgrading the iPad (it’s technically my wife’s since I had gifted it on her birthday two years back, but I’ve used it more than her) to iOS 8.4 when the update failed midway. It was inexplicable. I tried it a few more times, upgraded iTunes on my computers, downloaded the OS again, did a zillion things but the update continued to fail.

Considering that the iPad isn’t as integral to my life as the phone or computer, it was two weeks before I took it to hospital. Yesterday I went to iCare, an authorised Apple service centre, and showed them the iPad. They took it in and asked me to come back after an hour. An hour later, they said it wasn’t updating and that there was a hardware issue and the iPad was effectively dead.

It was then that I started losing it (I thought the lack of updation was a routine bug that happens with OS upgrades). And it was clear that these guys had done nothing more than what I had done at home. Connected iPad to iTunes, hit on the process to update, see error code, become clueless and give up. And then say “hardware issue”.

I mean, I’m an engineer, and I know that there is clearly no hardware problem with the iPad. And I couldn’t have possibly burned something in it when updating the OS. Who are they bullshitting when they say that it’s a “hardware issue”?

And so off I went to another (this time unauthorised) service centre which had come recommended. They made me wait, and tried all sorts of things. I had to wait longer here since they had to download iOS 8.4. Again it is not clear if they did anything beyond what I had already done at home. And I repeatedly told them not to repeat that but to find out what the problem is. And they seemed clueless.

So the iPad is a brick now. And since it’s been two weeks, I’ve really started missing it. I’m fairly pissed off with Apple right now, for making something that cannot be repaired. And for staffing their service centres with incompetents who do little more than what can be done at home.

I’m not sure I’m a “fanboy” any more. It seems like there is too much “tail risk” in apple’s products. To their credit, they possibly recognise that and exhort you to buy extended warranty (which I now plan to do for my Macbook). But it’s surely a problem that their repair centres (I’m not talking about the “unofficial” place) don’t do much more than what can be done at home.

I’m not so sure that I’m going to buy that iPhone now. If you’re investing so much (relative to “competition”) into a single product that carries so much tail risk, I don’t know if it’s all that worth it. But lack of worthy androids might just push me in that direction.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out how to salvage my iPad. Does anyone know of any competent apple service centres that I can take it to, where they’ll do more than just a cursory sniff? And are the so-called “geniuses” at Apple stores in the US actually good?

R, Windows, Mac, and Bangalore and Chennai Auto Rickshaws

R on Windows is like a Bangalore auto rickshaw, R on Mac is a Chennai auto rickshaw. Let me explain.

For a long time now I’ve been using R for all my data management and manipulation and analysis and what not. Till two months back I did so on a Windows laptop and a desktop. The laptop had 8 GB RAM and the desktop had 16GB RAM. I would handle large datasets, and sometimes when I would try to do something complicated that required the use of more memory space than the computer had, the process would fail, saying “fail to allocate X GB of memory”. On Windows R would not creep into the hard disk, into virtual memory territory.

In other words it was like a Bangalore auto rickshaw, which plies mostly on meter but refuses to come to areas that are outside the driver’s “zone”. A binary decision. A yes or a no. No concept of price discrimination.

The Mac, which I’ve been using for the last two months, behaves differently. This one has only 8GB of RAM, but I’m able to handle large datasets without ever running out of memory. How is this achieved? By means of using the system’s Virtual Memory. This means the system doesn’t run out of memory, I haven’t received the “can’t allocate memory” error even once on this Mac.

So the catch here is that the virtual memory (despite having a SSD hard disk) is painfully slow, and it takes a much longer time for the program to read and write from the memory than it does with the main memory. This means that processes that need more than 8 GB of RAM (I frequently end up running such queries) execute, but take a really long time to do so.

This is like Chennai auto rickshaws, who never say “no” but make sure they charge a price that will well compensate them for the distance and time and trouble and effort, and a bit more.