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Archive for October, 2008

Free Stuff

Posted by bitguru on October 26, 2008

On Tuesday, 28 October 2008, get a free taco at your local participating Taco Bell between 2:00pm and 6:00pm local time. This is due to the stolen base in game 2 of the World Series of north-North-American baseball. (There were five stolen bases in game 3, but presumably we won’t get any extra tacos.)

On Sunday, 23 November 2008, register for a coupon for a free 20 oz. bottle of Dr. Pepper.1 This one is thanks to the impending studio album by Axl Rose. Dr. Pepper is tasty, but whether it’s worth giving up personal information for is your call.


1I realize that the Dr. Pepper Company may have preferred that I omit the period between “Dr” and “Pepper” but I don’t always follow its whims. Call me a rebel.

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More on Apple’s new laptops, LED Cinema Dispay, mini-DisplayPort

Posted by bitguru on October 20, 2008

mini-DispayPort (unplugged) and USB (plugged)I saw Apple’s new laptops in person today. I was able to take some pictures of the new mini-DisplayPort connector with my cell phone’s lousy camera. They are blurry, but I think you can get a sense for the size of the connector.

Unlike full-size DisplayPort connectors, they do not latch. In this regard, it seems that mini-DisplayPort is no better than mini-DVI and micro-DVI, which is too bad.

I also got to see the new 24″ LED Cinema Display. (In this case LED refers to the backlighting. It’s still an LCD panel, not something exotic like OLED.) It connects to the laptop via a cable with three connectors: mini-DisplayPort for graphics, USB for the iSight camera and the integrated three-port USB hub, and  MagSafe power connector. The power connector is to provide power to the laptop, not to provide power to the display. Power to the display comes from a separate cable that plugs into a standard outlet, though it is confusingly omitted from almost all of Apple’s product imagespower, ethernet, USB, mini-DisplayPort.

I wonder what it would take to connect the 24″ LED Cinema Display to a PC laptop or video card with DisplayPort. A DisplayPort-to-miniDisplayPort adapter would be needed, of course, though none exist yet. Except for that, I would hope that it would work fine with the MagSafe and USB connectors left unconnected. (I have an Apple DVI 15″ LCD Studio Display connected to a standard PC and it actually requires the USB connection, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if the LED Cinema Display did also. The 1999-era Studio Display doesn’t send any data over USB, but it seems to use USB to detect computer power-on and power-off.)

Many have asked how to connect a new LED Cinema Display to an older Mac. The answer, at least for now, is that it can’t be done. There are adapters to connect newer Mac laptops to older displays, but not the other way around. Apple says all their laptops and desktops will eventually support mini-DisplayPort but, until then, the only machines that can drive LED Cinema Displays are the new Mac laptops announced last week. That’s why Apple continues to sell the existing 23″ Cinema Display with DVI. Some day someone like Gefen may sell a DVI-to-DisplayPort converter, but it will be a niche product and it will not be cheap. (On the other hand, I expect both DisplayPort-to-miniDisplayPort and miniDisplayPort-to-DisplayPort adapters will soon become commonplace.)

As for the laptops themselves, I gave the new buttonless trackpads a test-drive and I think I could get used to them. Depressing the entire trackpad to click felt a bit unnatural, but just a bit. Three-finger swipes left and right across the trackpad in Safari for page-back and page-forward did feel natural.

Much has been made about dropping FireWire (IEEE 1394) from the MacBook. The MacBookAir never had FireWire, presumably for size reasons. The new MacBookPro no longer has a FireWire400 port but does have FireWire800, so FireWire400 devices can still be used after buying a new cable or a small adapter.  The new MacBook, though, has neither FireWire400 nor FireWire800 and I wonder why. Is it because the new NVIDIA chipset doesn’t support FireWire as competently as the previous version’s Intel chipset? Could it be to further differentiate the MacBookPro from the MacBook now that the MacBook has more of the Pro’s features (for example, the backlit keyboard on the high-end model)?

I’m not in the market for a new laptop but if I were I would have to weigh the lack of FireWire before buying a MacBook, which is otherwise a very nice machine. I have only a couple of FireWire peripherals (the only one that gets much use is an ancient 3rd-generation iPod) but no FireWire also means no Target Disk Mode and one way fewer to recover data when things go wrong.

What I’m really hoping for is a MacMini updated with most of the new MacBook’s internals. I’d buy one even if it lacked FireWire. The current MacMini is appealing and whisper-quiet, but it’s a generation behind even the older MacBook. It could really use the increased graphics power and higher RAM ceiling (and presumably also mini-DisplayPort) that would come with an update.

Posted in Hardware | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Apple’s new laptops employ Mini-DisplayPort

Posted by bitguru on October 14, 2008

standard USB port next to Mini-DisplayPort

Until today, Apple’s three laptop lines used different display connectors. The MacBook used mini-DVI, the MacBook Air used micro-DVI, and the MacBook Pro used vanilla DVI. I thought Apple might standardize on a single display connector, perhaps micro-DVI.

I was partially correct. Today’s updated versions of the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro do all use the same display connector, but it’s mini-DisplayPort, not micro-DVI.

Apple needed another laptop display connector like a moose needs a hat rack, but mini-DisplayPort does have some advantages. For one, the connector is small—about 60% the size of a standard USB-A connector. (See comparison image, above.) It has a 1 Mbps bi-directional (half-duplex) auxiliary channel that could be used to handle webcam or other peripheral data. It can also drive resolutions above 1920×1200, which dual-link DVI can handle but single-link DVI variants can not. Perhaps the connector will mate with the socket more securely than mini-DVI does, but this is yet to be determined. (Latching is a feature of standard DisplayPort connectors, but so far as I can tell Apple created mini-DisplayPort on its own. It is unclear if mini-DisplayPort connectors latch. [update: They don't.])

The downside? Mini-DisplayPort is presumably signal-compatible with standard DisplayPort, which “is the future” but hasn’t really caught on yet. This will likely be a win in the long term, but it’s not signal-compatible with DVI or HMDI (nor VGA, for that matter). DisplayPort implementations are permitted to pass DVI-compatible signals through the connector, and presumably this is what Apple has done, at least for single-link DVI.

Apple’s $29 Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter supports single-link DVI. To exceed 1920×1200 requires the Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter, priced at a whopping $99. Presumably the dual-link adapter has circuitry that actually converts the DisplayPort signals, which is why it requires USB power. (There is also a $29 Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter.)

Posted in Hardware | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Lexus to go hybrid-only?

Posted by bitguru on October 8, 2008

lexus hybrid logo
Reuters reports that Toyota is considering making the Lexus lineup hybrid-only in the medium to long term. Hybrid versions of the RX, GS, and LS are already on the market. Presumably, hybrid versions of the remaining models would be introduced in the near term.

Toyota has arleady declared its intention to produce hybrid versions of all its vehicles—eventually—but dropping all conventional powertrains from the Lexus nameplate would be an intriguing move.

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Dollar coins now easier to obtain

Posted by bitguru on October 5, 2008

Months ago I wrote that U.S. dollar coins can be hard to obtain. Well now it’s easier thanks to the U.S. Mint’s circulating $1 coin direct ship program, introduced to “encourage robust national circulation of $1 coins.” I’m not sure it will do much for national circulation, but I’m glad that the coins are now easier to get.

Shipping takes 1-2 weeks, but is absolutely free, and payment can even be made by credit card.

The minimum order is one box of 250 coins (which costs $250, of course). There is a maximum of two boxes per presidential design per order, but if you want more than two boxes you can order multiple presidential designs or simply place multiple orders.

Btw, did you know the penny is getting four new tails designs next year?

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U.S. tax credit for plug-in vehicles signed into law

Posted by bitguru on October 4, 2008

When the president signed the economic rescue/bailout bill yesterday, a new tax credit for plug-in vehicles came with it. It is similar to the current tax credit for hybrids (except Toyota/Lexus hybrids, which have surpassed the 60,000-vehicle phase-out limit). The differences are:

  • plug-ins only (battery of at least 4 kWh, measured from 100% charge to 0% charge, with offboard recharging)
  • $2500 minimum, $7500 maximum for passenger cars (battery of at least 16 kWh to qualify for the maximum)
  • for vehicles sold during calendar years 2009-2014
  • gradual phase-out after 250,000 vehicles sold (total, not by manufacturer)

There had been some talk this legislation was created with the Chevrolet Volt in mind. Indeed, the Volt’s 16 kWh battery maxes out the credit. Early drafts keyed on the amount of pure-battery driving, which would be fine for the Volt (which drains the battery before burning any gas) but would exclude vehicles (such as Toyota’s upcoming plug-in Prius) that mix gasoline and battery power from the start. Evidently, any such language has evidently been removed.

see/leave comments

I had trouble finding the actual text of the bill, so here it is in case anyone else cares:

SEC. 205. CREDIT FOR NEW QUALIFIED PLUG-IN ELECTRIC DRIVE MOTOR VEHICLES.

(a) Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Credit- Subpart B of part IV of subchapter A of chapter 1 (relating to other credits) is amended by adding at the end the following new section:

`SEC. 30D. NEW QUALIFIED PLUG-IN ELECTRIC DRIVE MOTOR VEHICLES.

  • `(a) Allowance of Credit-
    • `(1) IN GENERAL- There shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed by this chapter for the taxable year an amount equal to the applicable amount with respect to each new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle placed in service by the taxpayer during the taxable year.
    • `(2) APPLICABLE AMOUNT- For purposes of paragraph (1), the applicable amount is sum of–
      • `(A) $2,500, plus
      • `(B) $417 for each kilowatt hour of traction battery capacity in excess of 4 kilowatt hours.
  • `(b) Limitations-
    • `(1) LIMITATION BASED ON WEIGHT- The amount of the credit allowed under subsection (a) by reason of subsection (a)(2) shall not exceed–
      • `(A) $7,500, in the case of any new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of not more than 10,000 pounds,
      • `(B) $10,000, in the case of any new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds but not more than 14,000 pounds,
      • `(C) $12,500, in the case of any new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 14,000 pounds but not more than 26,000 pounds, and
      • `(D) $15,000, in the case of any new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds.
    • `(2) LIMITATION ON NUMBER OF PASSENGER VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS ELIGIBLE FOR CREDIT-
      • `(A) IN GENERAL- In the case of a new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle sold during the phaseout period, only the applicable percentage of the credit otherwise allowable under subsection (a) shall be allowed.
      • `(B) PHASEOUT PERIOD- For purposes of this subsection, the phaseout period is the period beginning with the second calendar quarter following the calendar quarter which includes the first date on which the total number of such new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles sold for use in the United States after December 31, 2008, is at least 250,000.
      • `(C) APPLICABLE PERCENTAGE- For purposes of subparagraph (A), the applicable percentage is–
        • `(i) 50 percent for the first 2 calendar quarters of the phaseout period,
        • `(ii) 25 percent for the 3d and 4th calendar quarters of the phaseout period, and
        • `(iii) 0 percent for each calendar quarter thereafter.
      • `(D) CONTROLLED GROUPS- Rules similar to the rules of section 30B(f)(4) shall apply for purposes of this subsection.
  • `(c) New Qualified Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle- For purposes of this section, the term `new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle’ means a motor vehicle–
    • `(1) which draws propulsion using a traction battery with at least 4 kilowatt hours of capacity,
    • `(2) which uses an offboard source of energy to recharge such battery,
    • `(3) which, in the case of a passenger vehicle or light truck which has a gross vehicle weight rating of not more than 8,500 pounds, has received a certificate of conformity under the Clean Air Act and meets or exceeds the equivalent qualifying California low emission vehicle standard under section 243(e)(2) of the Clean Air Act for that make and model year, and
      • `(A) in the case of a vehicle having a gross vehicle weight rating of 6,000 pounds or less, the Bin 5 Tier II emission standard established in regulations prescribed by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under section 202(i) of the Clean Air Act for that make and model year vehicle, and
      • `(B) in the case of a vehicle having a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 6,000 pounds but not more than 8,500 pounds, the Bin 8 Tier II emission standard which is so established,
    • `(4) the original use of which commences with the taxpayer,
    • `(5) which is acquired for use or lease by the taxpayer and not for resale, and
    • `(6) which is made by a manufacturer.
  • `(d) Application With Other Credits-
    • `(1) BUSINESS CREDIT TREATED AS PART OF GENERAL BUSINESS CREDIT- So much of the credit which would be allowed under subsection (a) for any taxable year (determined without regard to this subsection) that is attributable to property of a character subject to an allowance for depreciation shall be treated as a credit listed in section 38(b) for such taxable year (and not allowed under subsection (a)).
    • `(2) PERSONAL CREDIT-
      • `(A) IN GENERAL- For purposes of this title, the credit allowed under subsection (a) for any taxable year (determined after application of paragraph (1)) shall be treated as a credit allowable under subpart A for such taxable year.
      • `(B) LIMITATION BASED ON AMOUNT OF TAX- In the case of a taxable year to which section 26(a)(2) does not apply, the credit allowed under subsection (a) for any taxable year (determined after application of paragraph (1)) shall not exceed the excess of–
        • `(i) the sum of the regular tax liability (as defined in section 26(b)) plus the tax imposed by section 55, over
        • `(ii) the sum of the credits allowable under subpart A (other than this section and sections 23 and 25D) and section 27 for the taxable year.
  • `(e) Other Definitions and Special Rules- For purposes of this section–
    • `(1) MOTOR VEHICLE- The term `motor vehicle’ has the meaning given such term by section 30(c)(2).
    • `(2) OTHER TERMS- The terms `passenger automobile’, `light truck’, and `manufacturer’ have the meanings given such terms in regulations prescribed by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for purposes of the administration of title II of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7521 et seq.).
    • `(3) TRACTION BATTERY CAPACITY- Traction battery capacity shall be measured in kilowatt hours from a 100 percent state of charge to a zero percent state of charge.
    • `(4) REDUCTION IN BASIS- For purposes of this subtitle, the basis of any property for which a credit is allowable under subsection (a) shall be reduced by the amount of such credit so allowed.
    • `(5) NO DOUBLE BENEFIT- The amount of any deduction or other credit allowable under this chapter for a new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle shall be reduced by the amount of credit allowed under subsection (a) for such vehicle for the taxable year.
    • `(6) PROPERTY USED BY TAX-EXEMPT ENTITY- In the case of a vehicle the use of which is described in paragraph (3) or (4) of section 50(b) and which is not subject to a lease, the person who sold such vehicle to the person or entity using such vehicle shall be treated as the taxpayer that placed such vehicle in service, but only if such person clearly discloses to such person or entity in a document the amount of any credit allowable under subsection (a) with respect to such vehicle (determined without regard to subsection (b)(2)).
    • `(7) PROPERTY USED OUTSIDE UNITED STATES, ETC., NOT QUALIFIED- No credit shall be allowable under subsection (a) with respect to any property referred to in section 50(b)(1) or with respect to the portion of the cost of any property taken into account under section 179.
    • `(8) RECAPTURE- The Secretary shall, by regulations, provide for recapturing the benefit of any credit allowable under subsection (a) with respect to any property which ceases to be property eligible for such credit (including recapture in the case of a lease period of less than the economic life of a vehicle).
    • `(9) ELECTION TO NOT TAKE CREDIT- No credit shall be allowed under subsection (a) for any vehicle if the taxpayer elects not to have this section apply to such vehicle.
    • `(10) INTERACTION WITH AIR QUALITY AND MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS- Unless otherwise provided in this section, a motor vehicle shall not be considered eligible for a credit under this section unless such vehicle is in compliance with–
      • `(A) the applicable provisions of the Clean Air Act for the applicable make and model year of the vehicle (or applicable air quality provisions of State law in the case of a State which has adopted such provision under a waiver under section 209(b) of the Clean Air Act), and
      • `(B) the motor vehicle safety provisions of sections 30101 through 30169 of title 49, United States Code.
  • `(f) Regulations-
    • `(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Secretary shall promulgate such regulations as necessary to carry out the provisions of this section.
    • `(2) COORDINATION IN PRESCRIPTION OF CERTAIN REGULATIONS- The Secretary of the Treasury, in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, shall prescribe such regulations as necessary to determine whether a motor vehicle meets the requirements to be eligible for a credit under this section.
  • `(g) Termination- This section shall not apply to property purchased after December 31, 2014.’.

(b) Coordination With Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit- Section 30B(d)(3) is amended by adding at the end the following new subparagraph:

  • `(D) EXCLUSION OF PLUG-IN VEHICLES- Any vehicle with respect to which a credit is allowable under section 30D (determined without regard to subsection (d) thereof) shall not be taken into account under this section.’.

(c) Credit Made Part of General Business Credit- Section 38(b), as amended by this Act, is amended by striking `plus’ at the end of paragraph (33), by striking the period at the end of paragraph (34) and inserting `plus’, and by adding at the end the following new paragraph:

  • `(35) the portion of the new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit to which section 30D(d)(1) applies.’.

(d) Conforming Amendments-

  • (1)
    • (A) Section 24(b)(3)(B), as amended by section 106, is amended by striking `and 25D’ and inserting `25D, and 30D’.
    • (B) Section 25(e)(1)(C)(ii) is amended by inserting `30D,’ after `25D,’.
    • (C) Section 25B(g)(2), as amended by section 106, is amended by striking `and 25D’ and inserting `, 25D, and 30D’.
    • (D) Section 26(a)(1), as amended by section 106, is amended by striking `and 25D’ and inserting `25D, and 30D’.
    • (E) Section 1400C(d)(2) is amended by striking `and 25D’ and inserting `25D, and 30D’.
  • (2) Section 1016(a) is amended by striking `and’ at the end of paragraph (35), by striking the period at the end of paragraph (36) and inserting `, and’, and by adding at the end the following new paragraph:
    • `(37) to the extent provided in section 30D(e)(4).’.
  • (3) Section 6501(m) is amended by inserting `30D(e)(9),’ after `30C(e)(5),’.
  • (4) The table of sections for subpart B of part IV of subchapter A of chapter 1 is amended by adding at the end the following new item:
    • `Sec. 30D. New qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles.’.

(e) Effective Date- The amendments made by this section shall apply to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2008.

(f) Application of EGTRRA Sunset- The amendment made by subsection (d)(1)(A) shall be subject to title IX of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 in the same manner as the provision of such Act to which such amendment relates.

Posted in Hybrid | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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