Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Technology (page 1 / 2)

It Took the Washing Machine A Long Time to Catch On →

Fascinating.

Today I learned that the washing machine is more than 250 years old.

After reading the lead article in this morning's Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, I briefly thought it was exactly 250 years old. This purported Feb. 23 anniversary is being celebrated all over the German news media this week, but it can't be right, given that there's a full copy online of the book in which German pastor and professor Jacob Christian Schaeffer made his invention known, and it's dated Oct. 16, 1766.

Not only that, but Schaeffer also writes in the book's foreword that he got the idea from a magazine article about an English washing machine that some guy in Copenhagen had successfully reconstructed.

​And yet…

It was only with the invention of the electric washing machine by Alva Fisher in Chicago in 1907 that something dramatically better than the washboard came along, and even then it took decades more for the machines to become cheap and reliable enough to change how people cleaned their clothes (and of course in much of the world, washboards still rule). In the U.S., according to a 2013 paper by Benjamin Bridgman of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the big gains in household productivity enabled by the washing machine, dishwasher and other such devices occurred between about 1948 and 1977.

This entry was tagged. History Innovation

Jim Dalrymple's AirPods Review →

Jim Dalrymple wrote a hands-on review of Apple's new wireless headphones, over at Loop Insight. I just love how he opens his review.

I have seen all kinds crazy things written since the keynote about the AirPods. Some people say they will drop out of their ears when they walk or run, others say we will lose them because they are so small.

Most of these things have been written by people that have never touched the AirPods. I have been using them for almost a week now and I can tell you that those concerns are not warranted at all.

I am not a child, so I think I can keep track of my AirPods—I have for a week with no problem at all. If you don’t think it’s within your ability to keep track of a pair of headphones, then clearly these are not the right accessory for you.

People in the tech industry seem to have a real problem with critiquing anything new, before they've even tried it or talked to anyone who has. It's a weird obsession — this idea that everything new is stupid — especially for an industry built around new and untried ideas.

Now let's let Jim talk about what intrigues me the most: how the AirPods solve the massive problem that Bluetooth headphones have pairing (and re-pairing) to different devices.

The AirPods will respond to whatever device invokes them. For instances, when you put them in your ears, you will hear a tone telling you they are ready. Press play in Apple Music on your iPhone and music will start playing. If you then press play on your Apple Watch playlist, the AirPods will automatically switch to that device for playback.

I was playing a song from my Apple Watch, activated Siri on my iPhone 7, the AirPods switched and activated the mic, I asked Siri a question, and when I was finished they automatically connected back to the watch to finish the song.

That’s pretty cool.

The AirPods also know when they are in your ears. If you are listening to music and someone comes up to speak with you or you’re in line ordering a coffee, you can just take one out and the music will automatically pause. When you put the AirPod back in your ear, the music will start playing again automatically.

And how's battery life?

I will say this: the only time I ran out of battery on the AirPods is when I meant to run the dry. It took 15-20 minutes to get them charged to 100% using the charging case.

On making phone calls and using Siri:

The AirPods will also seamlessly switch when a phone calls in as well. I’ve made and received phone calls using both headphones, in which case you can hear out of both headphones; taken out the left headphone, which then turns off; did the same with the right headphone; and then put them both back in.

The mics on the AirPods seem to be very good, although its hard to do a meaningful test when you can’t tell people why you want to test the microphone. I had one person comment, unsolicited, that I sounded really good while using the AirPods, but he didn’t know why. I didn’t tell him.

Using a double-tap on the side of the AirPods will invoke Siri when using the iPhone. It will pause the music, and then bring up Siri—ask your question, Siri will give you the answer and then return to playing the music in 5 seconds. A completely hands-free operation.

You can change this to have the double-tap do play/pause instead on the iPhone if you like. This is what happens when you use double-tap on AirPods using the Apple Watch.

These are the details that we expect to get right and they certainly did with the AirPods and how they work with the different devices we use.

At $160, I really don't want to like the AirPods. That's a lot of money to spend on headphones. But the magic ability to switch audio from one source to another, to another is seductive. No other headphone on the market can do this. And switching devices is such a pain that $160 starts to seem like a reasonable price to pay to make the pain go away.

If I used a Mac at the office, I think I'd be a lot more likely to buy AirPods. But since my Windows desktop will be unable to use them (it doesn't have built-in Bluetooth), I'm not sure it's worth it to buy headphones that I can only use at home or with iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

Remind of these doubts when you see me wearing AirPods next summer.

This entry was tagged. Apple

Why Apple Killed The Headphone Jack →

John Paczkowski, reporting for Buzzfeed.

For Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering, the iPhone’s 3.5-millimeter audio jack has felt something like the last months of an ill-fated if amicable relationship: familiar and comfortable, but ultimately an impediment to a better life ahead. “We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space,” he says.

​What did they need the space for?

A tentpole feature of the new iPhones are improved camera systems that are larger than the cameras in the devices that preceded them. The iPhone 7 now has the optical image stabilization feature previously reserved for its larger Plus siblings. And the iPhone 7 Plus has two complete camera systems side by side — one with a fixed wide-angle lens, the other with a 2x zoom telephoto lens. At the top of both devices is something called the “driver ledge” — a small printed circuit board that drives the iPhone’s display and its backlight. Historically, Apple placed it there to accommodate improvements in battery capacity, where it was out of the way. But according to Riccio, the driver ledge interfered with the iPhone 7 line’s new larger camera systems, so Apple moved the ledge lower in both devices. But there, it interfered with other components, particularly the audio jack.

So the company’s engineers tried removing the jack.

In doing so, they discovered a few things. First, it was easier to install the “Taptic Engine” that drives the iPhone 7’s new pressure-sensitive home button, which, like the trackpads on Apple’s latest MacBook, uses vibrating haptic sensations to simulate the feeling of a click — without actually clicking. (Did we mention that Apple killed the physical home button too?) Taptic Engine vibrations will also be used to deliver feeling specific notifications — hitting the end of a scrolled page, for example. And because Apple has given developers an API for it, an awful lot of other stuff as well — particularly in games.

“You can’t make it feel like there’s an earthquake happening, but the range of customization lets you do an awful lot,” Apple SVP Phil Schiller explains. “With every project there are things that surprise you with the meaning they take on as you start to use them. The Taptic Engine API is one of them. It turned into a much bigger thing than we ever thought it would be. It really does transform the experience for a lot of software. You’ll see.”

Second, there was an unforeseen opportunity to increase battery life. So the battery in the iPhone 7 is 14% bigger than the one in its predecessor, and in the iPhone 7 Plus, it’s 5% bigger. In terms of real-world performance gains, that’s about an additional two hours and one hour, respectively. Not bad.

Even better, removing the audio jack also eliminated a key point of ingress that Riccio says helped the new iPhone finally meet the IP7 water resistance spec Apple has been after for years (resistant when immersed under 1 meter of water for 30 minutes).

The 3.5-millimeter audio jack has been headed to its inevitable fate for some time now. If it wasn’t the iPhone 7, it might have been the iPhone 8 (or, for that matter, the iPhone 6). In the end, it was simple math that did the audio jack in, a cost-benefit analysis that sorely disfavored a single-purpose Very Old Port against a wireless audio future, some slick new cameras, and the kind of water resistance that anyone who has ever dropped an iPhone in the toilet has long wished for.

​Given that the new iPhone comes with both Lightning ear pods and a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, I think this is a very fair trade off. I already do most of my listening with Bluetooth headphones, so this really won't affect me that much. I think the updated features are worth the loss of my headphone jack.

This entry was tagged. Apple iPhone

A Nerd's Review of the Tesla Model S →

iOS developer David Smith recently wrote about his own experiences owning a car from Tesla.

I’m going to draw on my own background as a lifelong nerd and technology enthusiast to discuss what makes it so compelling to me.

​On charging:

The thought of instead needing to remember to plug in my car each and every night was admittedly a bit daunting. In the end it has really been a rather boring non-event.

It is now just a simple habit that I am used to. I park the car, get out, walk around to open the door for my kids and on the way almost absentmindedly pull the charger from the wall and plug it in. It’s so unconscious now that I occasionally have moments of puzzlement trying to remember if I did it or not.

What surprised me most around charging was not what it was like to keep a car charged but instead how much it drew my attention to how awful gas stations are. We still have another car that requires increasingly less frequent trips to the gas station. The smell was oppressive and the experience decidedly gross.

Also surprising, was how nice it is to essentially always leave your house with a full ‘tank’. No more rushing out of the house, late for an appointment, only to discover that I have to stop for gas along the way. I had worried that I’d have a constant sense of anxiety about having enough charge, instead I find I think about keeping my vehicle fueled less than I did before.

​On the self-driving autopilot feature:

Tesla’s autopilot system is a far reach from truly autonomous driving but also tantalizingly close. It is very competent at typical and routine highway driving. It can hold its speed, adapting to changing traffic conditions. It can keep itself perfectly centered in a lane and on command perform neat, clean lane changes. Closer to home it can park itself with a precision I doubt I’ll ever match.

​And:

As with everything Tesla does, autopilot seems to be getting better each and every software update (which as a side note is amazing…my car is better now than when I bought it, which is quite a thing).

While now I find I rely on autopilot mostly just situationally when having the extra help is useful, I imagine the days where my skill exceeds my car’s will be short-lived. Sadly I don’t get software updates, my driving is probably about as good as it will ever be. It is bound to catch up.

​It sounds like fun. I'd like to get a Tesla, but I want it for the nerd fun, not for phantom dreams of clean energy. My Wisconsin electricity comes from a coal plant, so gasoline may well be cleaner than an "electric" car.

This entry was tagged. Cars Review

The TextExpander Goodbye

Dear Smile Software,

I've been a customer of yours for 5 years. I bought TextExpander for iOS (version 1.1) in 2011 and TextExpander for Mac (version 3.4) in 2012. I've purchased each successive version of the application. TextExpander 6 is the first version that I won't upgrade to.

I won't be upgrading because you've priced me out of your customer base. In the time that I've been a customer, I purchased the Mac app and two upgrades for it (one was a family pack upgrade). I've purchased two versions of the iOS app. I've spent a total of $90 on TextExpander, over the past 5 years.

With the release of TextExpander 6, you've moved TextExpander from a purchased application to a subscription application. With the existing customer discount, I can expect to pay about $24 for my first year of using TextExpander and about $50 for each subsequent year. That comes to a total five year cost of about $224. For me, TextExpander just became almost 3x more expensive.

I agree with what TJ Luoma wrote.

I don’t see anything that I really need in TextExpander version 6. I’m not using it with a “team” and my family members probably have no interest in sharing a group of text snippets with me. Yes, I realize that Smile made their own syncing service, but I have used iCloud, Dropbox, and BitTorrent Sync, and they work fine for TextExpander. Creating their own syncing service was solving a problem that I didn’t have.

I also agree with what Jordan Merrick wrote.

When it comes to TextExpander, however, the reason for a subscription isn't compelling, nor does it make sense for individuals. Even in the follow-up, Smile were awkwardly attempting to explain how their own syncing service could be of benefit to individuals:

Everyone can benefit from sharing. People who work alone have peers, or belong to civic, volunteer, hobbyist, or church groups. Before now, none of them could share snippets with each other. Now, they can. And we’re doing our best to ensure they will.

Either Smile are going for the hard sell or they don't know the majority of their individual users at all.

​For me, that's definitely true. I'm a casual user of TextExpander. I maintain snippets mostly to simplify writing names, addresses, email addresses, and basic journal entry templates. I don't use it to earn an income. I don't need to share anything with any churches, civic groups, gaming groups, or other organizations. I don't anticipate subscribing to Markdown shortcuts from Brett Terpstra or snippets from anyone else.

I'm not opposed to software subscriptions. I currently subscribe to Instapaper Premium, I'm a patron for Overcast, I pay for Feedbin, and for Pinboard archiving. I also have a subscription to Club MacStories. My wife subscribes to Adobe's "Photography" plan for Photoshop. We jointly subscribe to Office 365 and we just signed up for a subscription to 1Password for Families. I like paying for things that I value, as long as the cost is in line with the value that I get.

I do get value out of TextExpander but it's in the $25 / year range not the $50 / year range. That goes triple for the fact that my TextExpander 5 license and my iOS apps are usable by anyone in my family, whereas TextExpander 6+ would cost me $50 / year for each person in my family. That's far too expensive for my modest needs. The fact is that TextExpander would be more expensive than Instapaper, Overcast, Feedbin, or Pinboard, the same price as 1Password for Families, and half the price of Photoshop or Office 365.

Try as I might, I can't convince myself that TextExpander is worth half of what Photoshop is worth or half of what the entire Microsoft Office suite is worth. And I know that I don't use it nearly as much as I use Instapaper, Overcast, and Feedbin, all of which cost me less than TextExpander 6 would.

Entice Me Back

I can see two ways that I'd be interested in being a customer again. The first is simple: lower the price. I have modest needs, give me a modestly priced option that matches my usage of the software. I'd be willing to pay $20–30 a year for the service, just not $60 a year.

I'd also come back if I felt I was getting more for my $60 a year. For instance, TextExpander for iOS used to have a way for every iOS application that embedded TextExpander to instantly update snippets without any user intervenion. Apple closed off your ability to do that and now I need to manually update my library of snippets in each application. That's a real pain.

I'd be happy to see you work it out so that the embedded version of TextExpander can use the new syncing service to keep all of my iOS applications constantly updated without any user intervenion. That would give me a concrete reason to upgrade to the latest version of TextExpander and to use your syncing service. It'd make me much more willing to pay a higher subscription fee, as the service would be more valuable to me. In all honesty, I'm still not sure that I'd spring for a $60 / year service, but it'd be a much more tempting proposition than the current service is.

This entry was tagged. Software

Introducing Day One 2 →

Day One screenshots

One of my favorite apps is about to get a big upgrade. Day One has been my journaling app of choice for several years now and it's about to get even better.

Over the past two years we’ve been working towards a major new version of Day One, using the somewhat awkward-sounding “Day One 2” as its name.

To support Day One 2’s new features, we ultimately rebuilt the app from the ground up, all the while staying true to Day One’s original simplicity. Rebuilding an app as seasoned as Day One is no small task. What I’d hoped would be a year-long effort has taken twice that… but we feel it’s been worth the wait.

Day One 2 will be a new app on Mac and iOS with two headlining features: multiple journals and multiple photos per entry. It will remain a paid app and be priced at $9.99 for iOS and $39.99 for Mac. We will provide a 50% discount during the first week of its debut.

I'm so glad they're making it a paid upgrade. I've been beta testing version 2. I can tell you that they really have worked hard on the new version and it's worth the price.

This entry was tagged. App

How Polluting is Your Car, On a Scale of 1 to Horse Manure?

It's fashionable to decry the horrid pollution of gas guzzling, emission belching, fossil fuel cars. But how do they compare to life in late nineteenth century urban America? (I'll re-use this quote from my last reading idea.)

Even the wastes of horses were commodified.  The collection of urban manure had old, even ancient roots.  Again, the process is most easily documented in New York City.  Before 1878, individuals roamed the street and picked up manure.  In that year the Common Council supposedly sold an exclusive license to a William Hitchcock, who sold the street sweepings to farmers for fertilizer.  Street sweepings varied in quality and were worth more if from an asphalt street than if from a gravel street or a dirty alley.  They were always worth less than stable manure, a purer product.  The older pattern of individuals collecting street manure for urban gardens never fully went away, and as late as the first half of the twentieth century neighborhood children in the Italian American neighborhood of East Harlem did a thriving business collecting horse manure from the streets for backyard gardens in the area.

Say what you will about my Toyota Sienna minivan, but no one will ever have to step in, smell, or sweep up any poop from it. Modern life is far cleaner, healthier, and more hygienic thanks to the widespread adoption of the internal combustion engine. It's not the sexiest technology, but I'm very happy to have it.

This entry was tagged. Cars Good News

An Experimental Wireless Network from Artemis →

Artemis Networks, a start-up that says it has created a technology for increasing the speed and reliability of wireless networks, is getting closer to bringing that service to the public.

The start-up, which first announced its technology a year ago, said it planned to lease wireless spectrum from Dish Network, the satellite television provider, for up to two years. It will use the spectrum to introduce a wireless Internet service in San Francisco.

… San Francisco, like many big cities, is already served by all the major wireless carriers, but Artemis has developed a technology that it promises will increase wireless Internet speeds through an innovative method of dealing with the congestion that dogs cellular networks.

When too many users get onto the Internet in one area from wireless devices, speeds typically slow, like a freeway jammed with too many cars. Carriers try to mitigate the problem by putting up more antennas in busy places like stadiums, but there are limits to how much of that can be done without creating interference between the antennas.

Artemis, in contrast, has an antenna technology called pCell that it says embraces, rather than avoids, avoids wireless interference. The antennas on an Artemis network are connected to data centers that perform nearly instantaneous mathematical calculations to fashion a unique wireless signal for every person on the network, giving them access to wireless data speeds that are not degraded as other people use the Internet from their devices.

This is the type of innovation that makes me skeptical about the need for net neutrality. The entire push for net neutrality is predicated on the idea that internet access lacks the competition needed to keep internet providers honest.

New technologies can quickly provide competition where none previously existed. My iPhone's LTE connection is already as fast as my home internet connection. If it weren't for data transfer caps, I could use my LTE access as my only internet access, bypassing Charter.

This pCell technology could enable wireless providers to offer much higher data caps, providing competition for cable in every city in America. With that kind of competitive pressure, who'd need network neutrality to keep providers honest? Big cable would be falling all over itself to offer "true unlimited" internet access, at prices below that offered by Big Cellular. We should be looking for every opportunity to increase competition, rather than looking to increase regulation.

This entry was tagged. Innovation Regulation

The Kindle Screensaver Should Be a Book's Cover Art

Now that I've established my kindle owner bona fides, here's my primary complaint about the Kindle.

To: kindle-feedback@amazon.com Cc: jeff@amazon.com Subject: Kindle Voyage—Use book cover art as screensaver

Hi,

Please give me an official way of allowing me to use my current book's cover art as my Kindle screensaver. If not that, give me a semi-supported way to use 3rd party modifications on my Kindle, so that I can install someone else’s code that will allow me to use my current book's cover art as my Kindle screensaver. I'd prefer a solution directly from Amazon, but if you're unwilling to provide it, I'm willing to look for a solution somewhere else.

Mostly, I love my Kindle Voyage. My biggest complaint is that the Kindle doesn’t have a feature allowing me to use my book’s cover art as the screensaver image. I read. A lot. I think the cover art of each book is an important part of my emotional connection to each book. But the Kindle almost never allows me to see that cover art. I see it when I’m selecting a book from the home screen, and that’s pretty much it. When my Kindle is on, I see the text of the book. When my Kindle is off, I see a random image from a collection of boring stock art screensavers.

In the past, I’ve jailbroken my Kindle devices, just so that I can install a hack that will use the cover art of my current book (or magazine, or personal document) as the screensaver for my device. The Lab126 team has gotten too good at preventing jailbreaks and now I can no longer see book cover art as my screensaver. This is very disappointing and is the biggest thing I don’t like about my new Kindle Voyage.

Thanks, ~Joe

About 24 hours later, I got a form response from the Kindle development team.

I'm sorry; currently the option to set the Kindle book’s cover art as the screensaver image isn't available on Kindle device. It is certainly not our intention for our customers to have anything but a pleasant experience using Kindle.

I completely understand that this feature (To set the Kindle book’s cover art as the screensaver image) definitely would be of great help to our customers. It's unfortunate that this feature is not available right now.

Although at this time there is no option for this, we'll be sure to consider your feedback as we plan for further improvements. Rest assured that I have passed along your comments to our developers. We definitely value your opinion and will continue to listen and respond to our customers' concerns. We will make every effort to evaluate the information you have provided, and try our level best to lead it to program changes or enhancements.

About 24 hours after that, I got a chiding response from one of Bezo's minions.

I'm Elizabeth King of Amazon.com's Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your e-mail and asked me to respond on his behalf. I'll be sure to include Jeff’s office with this correspondence.

Thanks for taking the time to share your feedback on allowing Kindle users to download third party software to devices for custom screen savers.

Customer feedback is very important to us as it allows us to continue to improve the services we provide based on what our customers are looking for. I've forwarded your comments to the Kindle team. In the future, if you'd like to share any thoughts you have about Kindle with the Kindle team directly, please feel free to send them to kindle-feedback@amazon.com.

Please keep in mind we're unable to provide any troubleshooting for your Kindle devices if it appears the device has been rooted.

Please refer to the Kindle License Agreement and Terms of Use for information regarding the proper use of Kindle software:

http://www.amazon.com/kindlelicense

This entry was tagged. Kindle Ebooks

My Kindle Owner Bona Fides

Because I almost exclusively read e-books, I occasionally offer criticsm of the Kindle and suggestions for enhancements. I'm not just offering drive-by criticisms. I've been a loyal Kindle owner for over 6 years now. My opinions are informed by my long experience using the devices and by my observations of what has—and hasn't—changed over the years.

Here's my experience as a Kindle owner.

  • Original Kindle: Purchased in August, 2008.
  • Kindle 2: Purchased in December, 2009, after my Kindle was stolen.
  • Kindle 3G: Purchased in December, 2010.
  • Kindle 3G Graphite: Purchased in January, 2012, on the promise of the higher quality eInk Pearl screen.
  • Kindle Paperwhite 3G: Purchased in September, 2012, on the promise of a brighter, whiter screen.
  • Kindle Voyage: Purchased in September, 2014, on the promise of a 300-dpi screen, better backlighting, and the return of physical page turn buttons.

With each edition, I've tried to buy the top-line model. Once the 3G wireless was available, I bought that with each new model. I always wanted to be able to get new books delivered, no matter where I was and whether or not I had WiFi. When Amazon introduced ad-supported models, I made sure to always buy the ad-free model. (Books are too important to be forced to look at an ad each time I want to read.)

This entry was tagged. Kindle Ebooks

It's 2015. I updated my footer.

I have a copyright footer at the bottom of my site. And I'd completely forgotten that it need to be updated for 2015. Shawn Blanc's post yesterday reminded me. He linked to It's 2015. Update Your Footer as a public service announcement.

Ever looked at a website and wondered if it is still in operation? Maybe a thing or two looked like they could have been updated – and then you notice the copyright notice the in the footer. "2012. Right, this site must be dead. Let's move along."

Of course, it could be that the owner just forgot to update the year in the footer. That happens a lot, especially if those years are hard-coded strings. To future-proof your footer, it's better to just let computers take care of this. Grab one of these snippets and paste that on your page (or forward this site as a friendly reminder to someone who can do it for you).

The snippets on the page are for Javascript and PHP. I didn't want a Javascript based date and my site doesn't run on PHP. I'm using Pelican, written in Python. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to make my own snippet for automatically updating the footer every year.

Pelican uses Jinja for site templates. In order to have the date in the footer, I needed a Jinja variable to hold the date. Pelican made it easy to create one.

All templates will receive the variables defined in your settings file, as long as they are in all-caps. You can access them directly.

I added this to my pelicanconf.py file:

import datetime
TODAY = datetime.date.today()

Once that was done, it was easy to add a dynamic footer to my theme's base.html file.

Copyright © 2006–{{ TODAY|strftime ('%Y') }}

And that's it. Now my site's footer will always be current with the year of the last time that I updated the site.

To make things more challenging, I did the entire change on my iPad. I used Dash for reading Python documentation. I used Textastic to update my template and settings file. Just for fun, I opened both files using Transmit's doc provider extension. Finally, I used Pythonista to actually rebuild the site and push the updated files to the server.

Who Are They Selling These Phones To?

This ad makes Samsung customers look like gadget obsessed creepers.

This ad tells the world that only crazy or psychotic people use Nokia phones.

This entry was tagged.

The driverless road ahead →

From The Economist. I love this kind of potential for revolutionary change.

Now another revolution on wheels is on the horizon: the driverless car. Nobody is sure when it will arrive. Google, which is testing a fleet of autonomous cars, thinks in maybe a decade, others reckon longer. A report from KPMG and the Centre for Automotive Research in Michigan concludes that it will come “sooner than you think”. And, when it does, the self-driving car, like the ordinary kind, could bring profound change.

All these trends will affect the car business. But when mass-produced cars appeared, they had an impact on the whole of society. What might be the equivalent social implications of driverless cars? And who might go the same way as the buggy-whip makers? Electronics and software firms will be among the winners: besides providing all the sensors and computing power that self-driving cars will need, they will enjoy strong demand for in-car entertainment systems, since cars’ occupants will no longer need to keep their eyes on the road. Bus companies might run convoys of self-piloting coaches down the motorways, providing competition for intercity railways. Travelling salesmen might prefer to journey from city to city overnight in driverless Winnebagos packed with creature comforts. So, indeed, might some tourists. If so, they will need fewer hotel rooms.

Cabbies, lorry drivers and all others whose job is to steer a vehicle will have to find other work. The taxi and car-rental businesses might merge into one automated pick-up and drop-off service: GM has already shown a prototype of a two-seater, battery-powered pod that would scuttle about town, with passengers summoning it by smartphone. Supermarkets, department stores and shopping centres might provide these free, to attract customers. Driverless cars will be programmed to obey the law, which means, sadly, the demise of the traffic cop and the parking warden. And since automated cars will reduce the need for parking spaces in town, that will mean less revenue for local authorities and car-park operators.

When people are no longer in control of their cars they will not need driver insurance—so goodbye to motor insurers and brokers. Traffic accidents now cause about 2m hospital visits a year in America alone, so autonomous vehicles will mean much less work for emergency rooms and orthopaedic wards. Roads will need fewer signs, signals, guard rails and other features designed for the human driver; their makers will lose business too. When commuters can work, rest or play while the car steers itself, longer commutes will become more bearable, the suburbs will spread even farther and house prices in the sticks will rise. When self-driving cars can ferry children to and from school, more mothers may be freed to re-enter the workforce. The popularity of the country pub, which has been undermined by strict drink-driving laws, may be revived. And so on.

This entry was tagged. Cars Innovation

Driverless Cars Would Reshape Automobiles *and* the Transit System →

So, sure. I've been blogging a lot of political stuff lately. But I get really excited about the potential for technological innovation to change our lives for the better. For instance, take driverless cars. (I'd love to!)

Would they just be a more convenient way to get around or would they revolutionize the entire idea of personal transportation? I was talking about this with my wife just last week, so I was excited to see someone else echoing my thoughts. If I'm not alone in my thinking, maybe I'm not crazy to think it.

When I've thought about driverless cars, which if you believe Sergey Brin, will be available within "several years," I've tended to think of them as a drop-in replacement for our current automobiles. So, you'd buy a VW Automaton and it would sit in your driveway until you wanted to go somewhere. Then, you'd hop in, say, "Take me to Lake Merritt," and then just sit back and pop in the latest Animal Collective while the computer drove.

But maybe that's not what would happen at all. Changes in transportation technology have tended to be accompanied by changes to transportation systems, too. Long-time technologist Brad Templeton argues that this will, in fact, be the case. And he's even got an idea of what the big shift might be. We could enter the age of the "whistlecar." If one can hire a cheap specialized 'robotaxi' (or whistlecar) on demand when one has a special automotive need," Templeton writes, "car users can elect to purchase a vehicle only for their most common needs, rather than trying to meet almost all of them -- or to not purchase at all."

This vision is kind of stunning: imagine the Kiva Systems logistics robots that now speed around major warehouses, but for people. Transportation-as-a-service models could really take off in a world of hyperoptimized robotaxis. Not only would the robotaxis be built differently from normal cars, but people's private vehicles (if they had one) would change as they realized how they could use the new system more effectively.

This entry was tagged. Good News Innovation

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

Steve Jobs

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

(Ecclesiastes 2:18-25 ESV)

Steve was richly blessed by God and we were all richly blessed by what he did, here on the Earth.

My daughters routinely watch Pixar films. Every night, they sleep in sleeping bags decorated for Pixar characters. Tonight, my daughter took a Cowboy Woody doll to bed with her. They both clamor to play games and watch movies on our iPad.

My life has been enriched by my iPod touch and everything that it allows me to do. I'm typing this on my MacBook Pro and I'm eagerly awaiting the day I can upgrade my phone to an iPhone 4S.

All of these products have been personally overseen by Steve Jobs and have been built according to his vision and his values. And they are all that there is. Apple will live on and will continue creating great products. But Steve's personal vision and creativity ends here. It seems sudden and too soon. I had no idea he was this sick and this close to the end.

He will be missed.

This entry was tagged. Apple

Steve Jobs Resigns

Letter from Steve Jobs

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

Well, damn.

Thanks, Steve, for all of the great products that you and your team have brought to the market. From my first Mac (a PowerMac G5), to my first Mac laptop (a white iMac), to my first iPod (3rd generation click wheel iPod), I’ve loved every Apple product that I’ve owned. I’ve been inspired by the careful attention to detail, in every single facet of the product design. I’ve been inspired by your business methods and the amazing success that Apple has achieved.

My daughters are growing up with Apple technology. They navigate around our iMac with amazing ease. They’re pros at using our iPad and constantly ask to be allowed to play on our iPod Touches. Your systems have made computing easy for them and even at the young age of “nearly 3” and “almost 5”, they’re not afraid to experiment, learn, and create.

Thank-you, God bless, and I wish you nothing but the best as you start this new chapter of your life.

(I have no doubt that Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Jonathan Ives and the rest of the crew will continue to make great products and have great success. But Apple without Steve just feels wrong and I’ll miss knowing that he’s there.)

This entry was tagged. Apple

Sprint to Get iPhone 5 →

Sprint Nextel Corp. will begin selling the iPhone 5 in mid-October, people familiar with the matter said, closing a huge hole in the No. 3 U.S. carrier's lineup and giving Apple Inc. another channel for selling its popular phone.

… Sprint will also carry the iPhone 4, starting at the same time, one person familiar with the situation said.

Nice. My contract is up for renewal in July. I wonder if Sprint would give me an early upgrade option before then?

Alternate link for the poor benighted souls that can’t read the WSJ online.)

This entry was tagged. Apple Iphone Sprint

An Open Letter to Pat Rothfuss

So, I sent the following letter to Patrick Rothfuss a little bit ago.

Hi Pat,

I was thinking about the book tour today.

I loved The Name of the Wind. I have every expectation of loving The Wise Man's Fear. I live in Madison. So, of course I'd love to attend the Madison book signing and get your autograph. I'd love to. But I have a small problem. I intended to buy The Wise Man's Fear in Kindle edition, not hardcover edition. And I think it'd be kind of awkward to have you sign my Kindle.

I thought of a solution. I'd love to buy a print of the cover art for The Wise Man's Fear and bring that with me to the book signing. Then I could bring it home, frame it, and hanging it in my reading room. (I don't have one now but I definitely think I should plan for the future.)

I did see the latest blog post about ordering signed cover art prints from The Signed Page. And I may yet take advantage of that. It's not nothing, but it's not nearly the same as coming to the book signing and getting something signed in person.

I've Googled and I've searched your website and I don't see it anywhere. Is there any option for buying prints of your cover art? If not, do you think your publisher might be open to the option of making some? I'd love to buy them and I'd think (hope!) that other fans might want to too.

Thanks for reading,
~Joe

I admit that I like physical books partly because I can show off what I've read and which authors and titles I really like. There was definitely a plan behind which books are upstairs and visible to guests and which books are relegated to the basement bookshelves. Buying eBooks is nice but I miss having something to display. I think I'd like to be able to buy the cover art to my favorite books, to display on my walls.

How about it, book lovers? What do you think of the idea of buying cover art prints, to supplement your eBook purchases?

This Kindle Case Changed My Life

mEdge Kindle Platform Jacket Can a simple accessory change your life? I guess it depends on how easily the course of your life is altered. But this M-Edge Kindle 2 case did change my life in a minor way. Nothing earth shattering. I haven't discovered a new direction, found new motivation, or rededicated myself to the assistance of aged grandmothers caring for bewildered orphans. On the other hand, I do read my Kindle far, far more than I used to.

Last year, around this time, I read my Kindle frequently. But it wasn't in an all-out fight to my dominant mode of reading. It was nice, but it was somewhat awkward. I enjoyed reading it in bed and I enjoyed reading it while sitting on park benches. I enjoyed reading it while waiting for my grill to heat up, right before tossing a nice juicy steak on it. But I didn't enjoy reading it while eating.

See, I've always read while eating. At least from as far back as I can remember, anyway. I'd even say it's a healthy habit. If I eat while reading, I eat slowly and chew everything thoroughly. Medical type personnel are always apt to say that that's a good thing that promotes healthy digestion. Without a good book, I tend to just bolt my food down so I can get back to something more interesting -- like reading.

Anyway, without this case, it was awkward to read while eating. I had to find something near my plate that I could use to prop up my Kindle: a milk jug, a particularly sturdy napkin holder, a pot of mashed potatoes, etc.

But this case. This case does all of the hard work of propping up a book for me. It supports my book at a perfect reading angle and looks nice doing it. It's now my preferred way of reading while I eat -- by far. It beats a paper book all hollow. And, since so much of my reading time these days is confined to meals, it's my preferred way of reading any book.

Now, if only there were a Kindle lending library stocked with every book ever published, I'd be a happy man.

(About the build quality: I bought the "real leather" variety. Don't waste your money. The leather is probably real but feels little different from the fake leather that I've felt on other products. The padding underneath is adequate but thin. The straps do a great job of holding the Kindle in place and feel like they'll last for a while. Also, this case goes great with an M-Edge e-Luminator2 book light.)

This entry was tagged. Kindle

Al Mohler on the Amazon Kindle

Do not think of the Kindle as replacing the book. Bury that thought. Bury it deep. Then go and hold a favorite book in your hand. Enjoy. Then pile 50 of your favorite books and carry them with you all day, through airports, onto airplanes, checking into hotels, sitting in meetings, reading in bed at night. You get the point. You sit (gloriously) in a library. You take a Kindle in your briefcase.

Well said, sir. Well said.

This entry was tagged. Kindle Quote