Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category.

Here Are the Two Problem With EV's

There are two problems with electric vehicles.  Neither are unsolvable in the long-term, but neither are probably going to get solved in the next 5 years.

  1.  Energy Density.  15 gallons of gasoline weighs 90 pounds and takes up 2 cubic feet.  This will carry a 40 mpg car 600 miles.   The Tesla Model S  85kwh battery pack weighs 1200 pounds and will carry the car 265 miles (from this article the cells themselves occupy about 4 cubic feet if packed perfectly but in this video the whole pack looks much larger).  We can see that even with what Musk claims is twice the energy density of other batteries, the Tesla gets  0.22 miles per pound of fuel/battery while the regular car can get 6.7.  That is a difference in energy density of 30x.  Some of this is compensated for by heavy and bulky things the electric car does not need (e.g. coolant system) but it is still a major problem in car design.
  2. Charge Time.  In my mind this is perhaps the single barrier that could, if solved, make electric cars ubiquitous.  People complain about electric car range, but really EV range is not that much shorter than the range of traditional cars on a tank of gas.  The problem is that it is MUCH faster to refill a tank of gas than it is to refill a battery with a full charge.    Traditionally it takes all night to charge an electric car, but 2 minutes at the pump to "charge" a gasoline engine.   The fastest current charging claim is Tesla's, which claims that the supercharger sites they have built on many US interstate routes sites will charge 170 miles of range in 30 minutes, or 5.7 miles per minute.   A traditional car (the same one used in point 1) can add 600 miles of range in 2 minutes, or 300 miles per minute, or 52 times faster than the electric car.  This is the real reason EV range is an issue for folks.

Interestingly, Fisker (which failed in its first foray in to electric cars) claims to have a solid state battery technology that gets at both these issues, particularly #2

“Fisker’s solid-state batteries will feature three-dimensional electrodes with 2.5 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. Fisker claims that this technology will enable ranges of more than 500 miles on a single charge and charging times as low as one minute—faster than filling up a gas tank.”

Forget all the other issues.  If they can really deliver on the last part, we will all be driving electric vehicles in 20 years.  However, having seen versions of this same article for literally 30 years about someone or other's promised breakthrough in battery technology that never really lived up to the hype, I will wait and see.

Rockets Blow Up... How Often?

On reading this article about a SpaceX rocket engine blowing up during testing, I thought to myself that rockets sure seem to blow up a lot, even with 60 years of experience.   If I had had to guess, I probably would have guessed 10-20% of the launches fail.

But it turns out that this is an exaggeration, probably due to the summer of the shark effect I have discussed before.  One problem with the data is that I would define failure rate from a customer point of view -- did my payload survive and was it inserted into the right orbit where it can do what I want it to do.  A lot of the data on failure rates uses other bases.  From this page, in 2016, the failure rate by my definition would be 3 out of 86 launches, or 3.5%  (that site reports a failure rate of 2 out ob 85, but do not count the pre-launch explosion of a SpaceX rocket that destroyed the payload).    This page has answers to the failure rate question in the 6-8% range for unmanned rockets over the history, with a bit of a trend downwards recently.  Apparently the failure rate on manned launches is much lower.

I guess my reaction is that the failure rate is lower than I would have guessed, but I think my perception that it had not improved a lot over 50 years may be correct.  I don't have the data but my sense is that air travel experienced a much faster rate of improvement in catastrophic failure rates, though the engineering calculus between manned (most air travel) and unmanned (most rockets) travel may be different.  Certainly if it cost $100 million per rocket to reduce the failure rate by a percent or two, it might not make financial sense if there are no people on it.

Irony of Phone Design

My last phone was a Droid Turbo (or some variant of that).  It was a tank (and btw the battery was so large it would last a week).  It was also butt-ugly, but you could drop that thing from an airplane and it would probably keep working.  I never bothered with a case.

My new phone is a Galaxy S8.  It is probably, looks-wise, the acme of phone design right now and the polar opposite in attractiveness from the Droid Turbo.  But it is literally almost all glass.  The front is glass.  The back is glass.  The sides, dues to the curved bezel, are mostly glass.  If you drop this thing you are going to hit -- wait for it -- glass.  I was changing cases on it and dropped it from a height of no more than three feet and both the front and back glass shattered.  So you MUST put this expensive phone in a relatively bulky case.  You can have a slim case that may or may not protect the screen and sort of retains some of the feel of the curved bezel or a bulky case that probably will protect the phone but makes the entire phone design moot.

My point is that companies seem to be designing phones for how good they look and feel in the Verizon store**, rather than how they will actually look bundled up in a large case in real life.  Once you provide reasonable life-protection for the S8, all its expensive design features are covered up.

One thing I have learned during this experience is that the vast majority of the millennials who rate cell phones on review sites like Engadget are wildly over-influenced by aesthetics.  For example they all seem to downgrade phones that have larger bezels and metal rather than glass packaging, irregardless of reliability. I am still looking for a site that publishes a good list of drop test results and ratings.  I don't think I will buy another phone without seeing these results (I was considering a pixel 2 until I saw is horrible drop results).  I would also like to see someone who grades phone aesthetics in the sort of cases we are all going to put on them.  Honestly if I had time I would probably start my own review site focused on real-world use, emphasizing characteristics like reliability, repair costs, drop test results, and battery life.

 

** For a long, long, long time, TV manufacturers ruined TV pictures so they would look better in a store.  Every TV you could buy, at least in the pre-LCD era, had super-high color temperatures shifted way up into the blues.  The colors looked like crap in a dark room watching a movie, but the picture appeared brighter in the TV showroom.  Back in the day, one of the first things one would do with a good TV if one was a movie snob was to get the TV color calibrated or look for a TV that had a color temperature setting.

Intrusive Law Enforcement Agencies Celebrate iPhone X

First, I want to congratulate @apple for introducing a $1000 phone with features like wireless charging and an edge-to-edge screen that my last two or three android phones have already had.  Perhaps the most, or only, interesting new feature is the facial recognition.  Apple is abandoning fingerprint scanning in favor of facial recognition to unlock the phone.

I mention the law enforcement angle in the title because it has been a bone of contention how far law enforcement can go to make someone unlock their phone.  Clearly, when unlocking was PIN only, one only had to declare they forgot and no one could really disprove that.  With fingerprint scanning, it has been a point that is still in the courts (I believe) as to whether LE can force someone to unlock the phone with their finger.  Now, however, all they will have to do is hold the phone up to the suspect's face.  This less invasive unlocking technique is probably an everyday hassle reduction, but will make the phone incrementally less secure from snooping.

Morbid postscript:  I wonder if this works on a corpse?  Is there a heat sensor of some sort, or are the kids going to be saying "let's get the eyes on dad's body open so we can get his phone unlocked".

Controlling Window Opacity With A Switch

I have seen companies advertising this sort of switchable privacy glass, but I had never seen it in the wild.  Had this glass in my hotel this weekend.  Really cool.  If they can perfect glass that goes full dark or opaque with a switch, I have a ton of windows I would like to replace (sorry for the small image, playing with Google's new Motion Stills app to make gif's, but it does not seem to have a save to disk function so I had to text it to myself and this was all the resolution I got).

Making Lace

I first saw this over the summer in Bruges.  If I had to name one place in Europe where I expected to be bored, but was in fact fascinated, it was the lace museum in Bruges.  They had a lot of examples of super-fine lace, as well as a history and examples of how it is made.  The best part was that upstairs, they had women actually doing hand lace projects that you could go watch.  I did not get a video of it but here are a few examples from the web that give the basic idea.  Here is hand-making of lace:

and here

and here is an insane machine for making it automatically

The super-fine hand-made lace in the museum in Bruges was unlike anything I have ever seen. An order of magnitude finer than even the best lace you have likely seen.

Interesting Solar Tech

I have no idea how much this stuff costs, so I am not advocating it as currently making financial sense.  But I have long argued that we will know solar is the energy source of the future when they start rolling out solar cells in large sheets like carpet out of Dalton, Georgia.

The Terrible Idea That Won't Die: Solar Roads

From Engadget:

Solar Roadways' dreams of sunlight-gathering paths are one step closer to taking shape. Missouri's Department of Transportation is aiming to install a test version of the startup's solar road tiles in a sidewalk at the Historic Route 66 Welcome Center in Conway. Okay, it won't be on Route 66 just yet, but that's not the point -- the goal is to see whether or not the technology is viable enough that it could safely be used on regular streets. You should see it in action toward the end of the year.

The tiles will be familiar if you've followed Solar Roadways before. Each one combines a solar cell with LED lighting, a heating element and tempered glass that's strong enough to support the weight of a semi-trailer truck. If successful, the panels will feed the electrical grid (ideally paying for themselves) and make the roads safer by both lighting the way as well as keeping the roads free of rain and snow. They should be easier to repair than asphalt, too, since you don't need to take out whole patches of road to fix small cracks....

As the Transportation Department's Tom Blair observes, it would be odd to push self-driving cars in the state's Road to Tomorrow initiative when the streets aren't as smart as the vehicles using them.

This has so much stupid in it, I don't even know where to start.  First, solar roads are a terrible idea.  Even if they can be made to sort of work, the cost per KwH has to be higher than for solar panels in a more traditional installations -- the panels are more expensive because they have to be hardened for traffic, and their production will be lower due to dirt and shade and the fact that they can't be angled to the optimal pitch to catch the most sun.  Plus, because the whole road has to be blocked (creating traffic snafus) just to fix one panel, it is far more likely that dead panels will just be left in place rather than replaced.

And who in their right mind would ever accept the statement that the solar panel roads would be cheaper to fix than a roadway?  What agency anywhere takes out whole patches of road to fix small cracks?  Square foot for square foot a solar road would be orders of magnitude harder to fix than just patching a pothole somewhere.

I love the line about "ideally" paying for themselves.  I am sure this is their ideal, but what is the reality?  I will bet anyone a million dollars that if all installation and maintenance costs are included, these will not come close to paying for themselves.  The first rule of alternate energy in any news article is to give the installation cost or the energy output, but never both, so actual return on investment can't be calculated.  If they give neither, as in this case, it really sucks.

And finally, what is not to love about the last paragraph, which says effectively that roads should be as smart as the cars that drive on them.  I have toyed with the idea of creating a whole new blog category on things people say that get millennials excited but make absolutely no sense.  This would be a good example.  Embedding solar panels in a road when just about any other flat surface anywhere would be a better place to put them is not "smart", it is painfully stupid.  A smart road might embed guide wires or some other technology to aid self-driving cars, but nothing like this.

The Downside of Web/Cloud Enabled Devices (Including My Oddest Analogy of the Week)

Google's parent Alphabet is abandoning support for Revlov's Smart Home Hub (which they bought a while back).  In and of itself this part of an irritating strategy (pursued enthusiastically both by Alphabet and Apple) of identifying edgy new devices with enthusiastic user bases, buying them, and then shutting them down.   I was a SageTV fan and user back in the day until Google bought it and shut it down (as a potential competitor to GoogleTV and its other streaming products).  The bright side is that this pushed me to XBMC/KODI, which is better.  The dark side is that I am sure Google could easily write those guys a check and then they will be gone too.

Anyway, after SageTV was shut down by Google, I could still use the hardware and software, it just did not get improved or updated or supported any more.  But increasingly new electronic products are requiring some sort of cloud integration or online account activation.  To work, the product actually has to check in with the manufacturer's servers.  So what happens when those servers are shut down?

Alphabet-owned company Nest is going to pull the plug on the Revolv smart home hub and app on May 15, rendering the hardware unusable next month.

Just to be clear on how much of a big deal this is, the company isn't only out to stop support but to really disable the device and turn the hub into a $300 teardrop-shaped brick. How much does a pitchfork go for nowadays?

...Needless to say, existing users are outraged by the development, and they have very good reason to be so."When software and hardware are intertwined, does a warranty mean you stop supporting the hardware or does it mean that the manufacturer can intentionally disable it without consequence? Tony Fadell seems to believe the latter. Tony believes he has the right to reach into your home and pull the plug on your Nest products," Arlo Gilbert, CEO of Televero and formerly proud owner of a Revolv hub, says, emphasizing that "Google is intentionally bricking hardware that he owns."

Video game enthusiasts have worried about this for years, and have started to encounter this problem, as the new most-favored copyright protection scheme is to require an online account and an account-check each time the game is run.  They try to say the online component is adding value, and they do a few things like leader boards and achievements, but the primary rational is copy protection.    Personally I find this generally easier to work with than other types of copy protection that have been tried (I really like Steam, for example) but what happens when the login servers are shut down?

This sort of reminds me, oddly enough, of cemeteries.  There used to be a problem where private cemetery owners would sell out the cemetery, fill it up, and move on.  But then the cemetery itself would fall apart.  It's not like the owners are still around to pay association dues like condo owners do.  Once people figured out that problem, they quickly began demanding that cemeteries have a plan for long-term maintenance, with assets in trust or some such thing.  Perhaps the hardware and software industry will do the same thing.  I could see a non-profit trust getting set up by the major players to which manufacturers pay dues in exchange for having the trust take over their servers after a product is abandoned.

Short Apple?

Verizon's decision to stop subsidizing smartphone purchases in exchange for 2-year contract lock-ins is going to be a big change in the industry.  It will be interesting to see what happens to handset prices.  A while back someone I know had a Verizon iphone that they lost.  They were talking about going out and buying a new one to replace it.   I said, "uggh, an $800 hit."  They looked at me like I was crazy.  They said they had paid something like $300 for it.  I pointed out that that was likely with a 2-year contract lock-in, and that a replacement would go full price which can run over $800 depending on which version they had.

They did not believe me.  In fact they were almost indignant that I would suggest such a thing.  And went running off the the Verizon store with every confidence an iPhone 6 plus could be purchased for $200-$300.

This situation has obtained for a decade.  It will be interesting to see what happens to iPhone sales when customers are exposed to something closer to the true price.  Since most iPhones without contract go for more (substantially more in fact) than the laptops I am buying my employees, I can't help but think that iPhone revenues will suffer.  (Of course, the result could be everyone who wants a new iPhone switching to AT&T from Verizon  -- it is not at all clear Verizon's new no-subsidy rates are low enough to be a better net deal than the old rates+subsidy).

I use Verizon because my business operates in the boondocks and Verizon is almost always the last carrier standing when I drive out to our locations.  I wonder if Verizon will now be allowing unlocked phones?  I presume this will be the case -- T-Mobile is the other company that ended phone subsidies and I moved my unlocked Nexus to them.

By the way, the current T-Mobile $50 a month plan allows unlimited data and text when roaming in 120 countries, and $0.20 a minute international calls from any of these countries.  This is even better than you can do with the old method of buying an international sim card and switching when you land.   No other US carrier is even in the ballpark.  You have to pay Verizon $20 a month or so to get them to reduce international roaming text costs to 50 cents each with some paltry amount of data.  For international travelers, there is no other choice even close to T-Mobile among US carriers.

RRRRR, I Don't Want Another Device I Have to Remember to Charge -- In Praise of the Removable Double A Battery

After years and years of happy service, my Logitech MX Anywhere mouse finally gave up the ghost.  So I bought a new one, though I purchased the new MX 2 thinking it would be new and improved.

Wrong!  At least for me.  The old mouse used a single AA battery that lasted months and months.  By keeping 1 extra AA battery in my backpack, I was able to make sure my mouse would always work.  Now, though, the new MX 2 mouse has a built in battery that has to be charged with a charging cable.  And if it runs down (which is always possible since there is no charge indicator)?  Then you have to plug it in with a cable to recharge, and the mouse does not work while charging.  Basically, if you were planning to work in your hotel room that night, you are out of luck.

Already, I have to remember to plug in my cell phone, my iPod, my iPad, my TV remote, my Jabra earphone, etc.  I don't want to have to charge something else!!

A plug-in rechargeable battery is NOT necesarily better than using a couple of double A's.  I have the same problem with my home theater remote (also Logitech).  My old versions used to use replaceable batteries, so I could just leave it on the coffee table.  The new remote require a charger.  But I have no outlets within 10 feet of my coffee table, so now I have to keep the remote in the kitchen, one room over.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The Geek / Non-Geek Divide

I took this picture in La Jolla this weekend -- it is of a house with a very narrow driveway that has a turntable to help the car get in and out of the garage facing the right way.

 

turntable

 

I thought it was amazing, but my wife immediately began saying things like "well, I think you could easily get the car in and out without it by... blah blah."  I told her you don't have a turntable because it is necessary, you have it because it is awesome.   Didn't she watch the Batman series growing up?  It's a freaking turntable for your car!  What further justification is needed?

Update on Slippery Cell Phones

In my review of my Droid Turbo, I mentioned in passing that I was frustrated by how slippery a lot of cell phones were.  I was in the Verizon store the other day killing time while they fixed something on my kids' phone, so I tried holding a bunch.

The slipperiest by far were the HTC One M8 and the LG G3.  Both, probably not coincidentally, get high marks for being attractive due to their metal or faux metal backs, but the same backs make them like a wet bar of soap to hold.  You can put a no slip case on them of course, but then if you are going to put them in a case, why buy a phone that is promoted in large part on its looks?

My Droid Turbo is OK, with no slip surface around the edges but a very slick back, at least the nylon back one I have.

The Galaxy S5 is better than average.  Its back gets a lot of grief for being ugly, but it will not slide around in the hand and is comfortable to hold.

Until this week, the no-slip champion for me was the Moto X with the bamboo case (it is real wood veneer, not some plastic fake thing).  It looks good to my eye and it is very grippy in the hand.

But there is a new champion.  I tried the Moto X with the new football leather backing (again, real football leather).  This thing is not going to slide out of your hand (unless maybe if you are Jay Cutler).  The looks are ... different, but I could get used to it.  Phones for me are a convenience item, not a fashion item.  The Moto X's only problems are a small battery and a camera that is a bit weak.  Which is why I bought the Droid Turbo, which is a very similar phone but with a bigger battery.  Just wish they had all the cool Moto Maker options the Moto X has.

Droid Turbo Review

I am extremely happy with my Droid Turbo phone on Verizon.  A few notes for those thinking about buying a phone:

Why Android over iPhone

  • I have been an iPhone guy through 2 generations of phones, and still love my iPad.  But I am exhausted with iCloud and Apple proprietary calendar and mail.  I don't use those tools, I use Gmail and other Google tools, and I got exhausted constantly farting with setup issues.  Things I had to use IFTTT to do on the iPhone happen automatically on Android.  And don't even get me started on duplicate photos in the iPhone/iCloud world.  Drives me crazy.
  • If on your desktop you live in the Apple world, buy an iPhone.  If you, like me, use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google drive and other such tools, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to switch to Android.  Google drive is woven into the operating system at many points.  And even better than on the desktop, Android is great at working with and recognizing multiple google accounts without signing in and out.  For example, in the photo viewer, you can view all your photos together from all your accounts.
  • The one downside is I don't use Google hangouts and Google+, and those are woven in as well.  I had to replace the text messaging app with something else (I use Chomp) but that is the great thing about Android - things that are fixed in iOS are customizable in Android (it is also the bad part of Android if you don't want to mess with that -- I would never put my wife on Android, for example).
  • As a downside, all the variation in phones and customizations mean that you are not guaranteed to get Android updates when they come out.  It depends on your carrier and phone manufacturer.
  • The ability to load up all my music for free (even FLAC files which they automatically convert online to high quality MP3) and stream it to my phone is way better than Apple's capability.
  • I think that most of the feature and OS leadership in the last 18 months has really be grabbed by Android.  Except for the fingerprint capability on the iPhone, everything in the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 was just catch up with Android.

The Good about the Turbo

  • Honking big battery.  Yes, it makes it a bit heavier and bulkier, but it is way lighter and less bulky than, say, and iPhone with a mophie battery case.  I never even come close to running out, even when I use it travelling as a GPS in the car for several hours.  You don't realize how much your interaction with your phone is influenced by battery life until you don't have to worry about it.  I can even leave the screen on bright all day
  • Wireless charging.  Awesome.  The mini-USB connector sucks vs. the iPhone connector because it is not reversible so it is much harder to insert.  All that goes away with wireless charging.  Love it.
  • Fast charging.  You can use the fast charger to blast a ton of life back into the phone in just 15 minutes.
  • Near stock Android.  I like this over the glossy custom overlays Samsung and Sony and every other company apply.  I did replace the front end with the Google Now front end, which is nearly identical but it has Google now cards on the leftmost screen, which I have come to enjoy.  Fun travelling in particular when it pops up photo sites or destinations near me.  Its news suggestions are tied into my browser history and are pretty spot on.
  • Near stock Android also pays another benefit - you will get Android updates much faster.  All Motorola phones (given Google's ownership) are early on the list of phones that will get Android Lollipop upgrades.

Things that are fine

  • The camera is fine.  Focuses relatively fast, takes decent pictures, but not as good as you might expect from the specs.  But competitive with other phones.
  • The screen is supposed to be a selling point, with its above HD resolution, but almost never can I tell a difference.  At some point, the eye just cannot see more pixel density.  It has some tradeoffs in that the higher pixel density can lead fonts on some websites to be almost unreadable (no one has really programmed for this high of a pixel density yet).  Also, the higher pixel count requires more power, which reduces some of the advantage of the larger battery
  • The screen is AMOLED, like the Samsung Galaxy phones.  It is a love it or hate it thing.  The colors on AMOLED tend to be oversaturated.   Ironically, I can live with that.  I am SUPREMELY fussy about the colors on my TV's and in particular on my movie projection system, but I don't care so much on the phone.  Certainly it makes the desktop bright and attractive

Things that are a negative for many reviewers but don't bother me

  • "Its ugly".  That is the #1 review comment.  Shrug.   I think it is fine.  Sure, the Moto X with the bamboo back is awesome looking.   But I am deeply into functionality here.  The curved back feels nice in the hand.
  • There is only a single speaker.  I have come to understand that millennials are fine listening to music on crappy tinny speakers.  I would never listen to music on laptop speakers, and especially not on a cell phone speaker.  I only use the cell phone speaker for occasional speakerphone calls.  And it is fine for that.

Things that do bother me

  • I wish it had a memory card slot.   I have 64MB which is likely enough, particularly since I have all my music loaded up online with Google play music and I can just stream it most of the time.  But I would feel better with an expansion slot
  • I wish it was water resistant like the Galaxy S5.  Wireless charging makes this even more doable since you can plug up the USB port.
  • I wish it had iPhone's awesome fingerprint scanner
  • Why do they have to design $800 electronic devices that break when dropped to be so slippery?  The edges are finished in some kind of rubbery stuff that is very grippy.  I wish they had done the back in the same stuff.  That fake nylon webbing stuff on mine is slick, though not wet-bar-of-soap slick like, say, the HTC One M8.

Amazingly Fast Technology Transformation

If one considers the penetration of digital film-making to be the inverse of this chart, I can't remember any technological transformation that occurred this fast.  From the WSJ

P1-BQ856_FILM_G_20140729173906 (1)

 

Incredibly, this likely understates the speed at which traditional film has been replaced, since some of these Kodak numbers likely include a bump from the exit of their rival Fuji from the film manufacturing business.

I will confess that I was among those who feared this transition, worrying that digital recordings would lose some of the special visual qualities of film.  What I failed to understand, and most people fail to understand in such technical transitions, was that whatever was lost (and it was less than I feared) is more than made up for in new capabilities in the new medium.

Ultimate Geek Accesory

The orrery watch.

wristwatch-shows-solar-system-planets-orbiting-around-the-sun-10

For a mere $245,000.

Seriously, though, if someone could make a wall clock like this for a hundredth of the price, I might buy it.  Of course this is comes from the person who has this on his wall, so I am a sucker for unique clocks.

The Patent System is Broken

Why?  Well, as one example, if you have ever scanned a document and then emailed it, this company thinks you are violating its patent and wants a license fee.

Moore's Law on Steroids: World Computing Power for One Type of Calculation is Doubling Every Three Weeks

Over at Forbes, I wrote this week about Bitcoin mining.  But don't be immediately put off.  This is not yet another article by a crazed libertarian and Cryptonomicon fan on the miracle effects of digital currencies.  Instead, I look at the crazy economics and absurdly steep capacity and technology curves of Bitcoin mining.  An excerpt:

Let’t take an example, and consider the Cointerra TerraMiner IV, a 2TH/sec machine priced at about $6000 which if purchased today would be delivered sometime in February, or about 3 months from now.  At current difficulties and exchange rates, such a machine would pay back its purchase price in less than a week, producing over $25,000 a month in Bitcoins.

A no-brainer, right?  But Bitcoin mining difficulty has been going up of late by a factor of 10 every 3 months.  Based on a mining difficulty ten times greater than today and current exchange rates, we could expect instead to be making at delivery something more like $575 a week.   Three months later we would be making a tenth of that.  If we factor in the costs of electricity, this machine will never cover its costs at current Bitcoin exchange rates.

I do not think I have ever seen a business technology obsoleted so quickly.  Essentially, the next generation of mining processors will be virtually obsoleted between the time of its sale and its delivery 3 months later.  Every three months one has to reduce his production costs by a factor of 10, in a business where cost reduction basically means throwing out all one’s existing capital assets and buying expensive new stuff.

Amazing

Like something out of a a Neal Stephenson novel.

Coolest Drawbridge

iOS7 Problems

The day of the launch of iOS7, I warned my whole family in an email not to upgrade until it had some time to prove itself.  This is why.  Apparently it is a mess, at least for some users. 

The sort of funny part is that they defend themselves by saying "at least it is not as bad as Microsoft OS launch."  We certainly have latched onto a new form of accountability in the Obama age:  "Don't criticize me because I am not as bad as the other guy."

By the way, as someone who is had been royally pissed off at Microsoft many times in the past, Microsoft has to accommodate thousands of hardware configurations and a much more loosely controlled development community.  There are fewer excuses for Apple, which develops for a single hardware platform that it totally controls.

Also, there is one other difference -- when I am unhappy with a Microsoft OS, as I was with Vista, I can simply roll back to the previous version (in that case XP).   Apple does not give users any way to roll back their iPhone OS.

The World Needs Obsessive People, Even If I Am Not One Of Them

This photo is kind of cool of a disassembled VW (via Twisted Sifter)

exploded-view-volkswagen-golf-mk2

But this response from the from a user at the Club GTI forum is simply awesome.  An excerpt:

They left the 3/4 sync hub pressed onto the input shaft, and captured by that would have to be 3rd gear, because 3rd isn't on the floor.

The selector detent bolt is missing as well.

They're short one roller bearing, unless it is in the case still.

They're missing the 13mm nut to hold the selector bracket to the selector assembly.

They show 12 of the 14 bolts used around the trans casing, missing the 2 shorter ones under the selector area.

5th gear circlip and washer are missing.

5th gear retention bolt and washer are missing.

They're short one 17mm drain/fill plug too.

etc. etc.  This is exactly the guy I want in charge of the engine overhaul on the next aircraft I fly in.

Blackberry Handset Business Apparently Valued at Zero

I don't really have a horse in this race, but I found it interesting to look at the deal Blackberry has made to sell itself to a Canadian insurance company.  The part of the business we all know and used to love -- the famous Blackberry handset business -- apparently is worth zero.

In a WSJ article, they cite the following valuations:

  • Cash on hand:  $2.6 billion
  • Patent portfolio:  $1 billion +
  • Blackberry secure phone network:  $1 billion

Given that the price for the transaction is $4.7 billion, that implies the handset / smartphone business is worth zero.  Which comes as no surprise, given Blackberry's eroding position over the last 5 years or so.

The last item on the list above seems to cause a lot of debate.  I don't know enough to participate in that debate, but it appears to me that Blackberry's one last market bastion is the enterprise market where their enterprise servers and more proprietary network gave enterprises more control over their employees devices and how they used them.  Which made their decision in 2012 to apparently obsolete their installed base of enterprise servers with Blackberry 10 all the more bewildering.

I have wondered why Microsoft didn't try to use the enterprise market as a way to get into the tablet and handset market.  It would seem to play to its strengths and neither Android nor iOS are particularly enterprise-friendly.

Changing Consumption of Technology

My kids and I were watching Zoolander the other day, and one joke I don't think they fully "got" was the ongoing gag where many of the characters had really tiny cell phones.  The movie, made in 2001, was mocking a trend at the time where people were paying premium prices to get the smallest phone possible.

zoolander

It is amazing how things change.  If you made that movie today, it would likely be written mocking the opposite effect, with people trying to talk on smart phones the size of salad plates.  Here for example is a new 6.3 inch diagonal phone.  Only NBA players who can palm a basketball need apply.

huawei-ascend-mate(image source)

Not to say there is anything illogical about this.  We now read our phone much more than we listen to it.  I am not sure either of my kids has ever made a phone call on their cell phones except to my wife and me.

Technologies That Make No Sense

The wireless electric vehicle charger.  Sure it's cool.  And convenient.   But as I understand it, the main selling point of electric vehicles is their energy efficiency (I personally like the driving feel of a torque-y electric motor, but that does not seem to be the advertised selling point).  If this is the case, then why the hell would one accept a 30% energy loss (wireless charging is generally considered to be about 70% efficient) because they were too lazy to plug in a cable?

This is against the backdrop of most electric vehicle owners having no freaking clue if they are actually saving energy and money or not (all they know is that they see the costs to fill their gas tank but don't see little numbers spinning when they fill their electric car).  As I have written before, they likely are not saving energy vs. a similar size gasoline engine car but may be saving some money due to the lower cost of fuels like natural gas and coal (vs. gasoline) used in electricity production.