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There are times when I find it convenient to run a program or park some files in a place that's out on the Internet, "in the cloud" as the marketing people like to say. Lately I've been using BSDvm.com for that. For just under US$ 10/month I chose a single-core NetBSD VM with 256M RAM and 5G disk. This may sound tiny but it's perfect for the text-based applications I run on it and, unlike many other VPS services, includes unmetered bandwidth.

I had expected to have to install NetBSD on the VPS but it was delivered as a freshly-installed NetBSD/i386 instance that looks and feels just like it does on bare metal. One surprise benefit was that when I "experimentally" erased the VM's hard disk, I was able to contact tech support who had it re-imaged almost immediately and at no cost. Because it has a public IP address, I can ssh into it and even run things like a Web server that I've used as a convenient way to get binary files to people without having to explain sftp. OpenBSD and FreeBSD are also available but I used NetBSD because I'm already familiar with it. I find the BSDvm a convenient thing to have around.


iPhone 4s

Apple iPhone 4s
The Android smartphone that I used every day for work eventually failed. It was fine as a tiny tablet but no longer worked for phone calls. When word of this reached our service director he called me into his office and opened a desk drawer full of "gently used" Apple iPhones and dug out an iPhone 4s. One or two people in my department use iPhones so it seemed likely that I'd be able to find the apps to do my job and I thought it would be an opportunity to try out an iPhone and iOS.

The phone itself seemed nice enough, though the glass back seemed ridiculous because the phone slid around like Bambi on a frozen pond until I found a nice orange case for it. The single button at the bottom of the screen confused me a bit: I'd poke at it like a caveman, wondering why it didn't behave like the back button on Android. A colleague took pity on me and explained that this was the "home button" that would (logically enough) take me back to the home screen. A double-press takes me to a task list that lets me kill things off.

The phone's battery life is abysmal. I have to plug it in every few hours or it craps out, leaving me without a connection to the office. I've heard that iPhones have weak batteries but batteries do age with use, so perhaps it's not fair to judge them all by this one example. I have been pleasantly surprised by how fast the user interface feels and the stability of the apps that I've tried so far. I wonder whether iOS applications are built against cleaner, faster (and fewer?) libraries.

Unlike the Android phone I'd been using, the iPhone 4s doesn't support "4G" LTE speeds. For most of what I do that's not an issue: I just have to wait a bit longer for downloads when I'm not on WiFi. I was able to find iOS equivalents to most of the apps I use and I was pleasantly surprised that Google apps like gmail and Google Hangouts were available for the iPhone. The calendar app won't sync against the MS Exchange account that tells me where to go every day and nobody seems able to figure out why. Because of this I have to bother a friend in the office to have him read Outlook to me. We're high-tech like that.