May 31, 2011

The Earth Moved

A Youtube time-lapse video of the night sky, with a twist. The Earth moves as the sky and stars remain motionless.

We are indeed riding upon spaceship Earth...

(Via kottke.org)

Is Gruber Breaking News?

John Gruber on Daring Fireball, responding to an MG Siegler post reporting Twitter photo sharing being baked into the forthcoming iOS5:

"So close to the bigger story, but yet so far. Imagine what else the system could provide if your Twitter account was a system-level service."

John Gruber is well-sourced, occasionally breaking news of imminent Apple product releases as the event is about to unfold. Will Apple announce full Twitter integration in iOS5? Such integration could fully replace carrier-based texting with a rich client capable of texting, sharing, following and the like. And no per-text charges.

Monday is the day, 1 PM eastern the time.

Priest Bites the Forbidden Fruit?

9to5Mac:

Intelligent design, indeed.

Priest With iPad

Steve Jobs to Unveil "iCloud" Service at WWDC 2011 Keynote

Apple PR:

"Apple will unveil its next generation software - Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS X; iOS 5, the next version of Apple’s advanced mobile operating system which powers the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch; and iCloud, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering."

(Via DF.)

That last bit will be the "big deal" from this year's WWDC. Apple has sold access to their often-disparaged MobileMe cloud service alongside new machines and through resellers, such as Amazon, for years. Amazon stopped selling accounts in May, and the debut of a new, cloud-based service has been described as "imminent" ever since.

Apple's slowly unfolding technology scheme has involved what I think of as "content everywhere." Your content goes everywhere with you for immediate access, as your mobile device itself becomes smaller, lighter, and more capable. Laying on the beach, sitting on an airplane or by the pool, driving to work, your music, podcasts, audiobooks, and movies are a tap away. Air Play is just the most recent example of that intent. It allows a mobile device to throw playback to a non-mobile output, such as an Apple TV 2 or Sonos speaker system, via WiFi networking.

But keeping multiple devices in sync is a hassle. My devices recharge on my nightstand overnight, but my main machine is in another room. How do I get my content synced between an iPhone, iPad and laptop, while having that content always available to an Apple TV 2, and still have my iPhone and iPad at my bedside for use? iCloud should become the hub containing a user's full content, around which all of his or her activities revolve.

A few items I'd like to see in the forthcoming iCloud service: integrated music and app purchases from what we now call iTunes. If I buy an app, but lose the device on which it's installed, I can just re-download and install on a new device without charge. Not so for music purchased on the device through iTunes, but never synced back to a computer. Make it so.

The rumored music locker service, with a twist. Leave enough of my music on my mobile device to let me start playing a song immediately, while a streamed version of the song buffers from iCloud. Switch to the stream when it's functional. That lets me hop around, song to song, and never have to wait to hear something. Think of how much room will be saved on a mobile device if I only have to store the first ten or fifteen-seconds of each song. Here's a stretch: make that happen for non-copy protected video content, too. Whether it's home movies or ripped DVDs, I want to be able to stream it from my account to my device, anywhere.

Full syncronization of all content among all my mobile devices and laptop, without having to plug my iPhone or iPad into my laptop ever again. Charging can be done with a wall adapter.

Monday, June 6, will see this new cloud service unveiled, a new mobile OS to link to that service, and a new desktop OS to continue the integration of gesture-based computing with non-mobile devices.

May 30, 2011

Absent Data Deepens the Mystery

Captain Dave, Flight Level 390:

"But why did the two young bucks (quoting one of my retired Captain buds) start increasing pitch angle? Why didn't they ignore the bogus data and fall back on pitch and power? Why, why, why... ?"

I was glad to read those words about the demise of Air France trip 447 from a working air transport pilot. I thought I had maybe missed something in the preliminary report, released a few days ago, despite reading it three times through. It indicated that the two co-pilots stalled the aircraft in rough weather. The airframe fell for three-and-a-half minutes to the ocean.

But the preliminary report doesn't give a hint as to why that happened. Why did those pilots believe raising the aircraft's nose was the right thing to do, despite an artificial horizon instrument that would have clearly indicated level flight, and engine exhaust indicators showing full thrust? Something prompted those pilots to believe they were taking the right action. It remains a mystery as to what that was.

At least I'm in good company.

May 29, 2011

Driverless Cars - Sign Me Up

NYTimes.com:

“Consider one potentially important technology, the driverless car. The idea is simple: a computer drives the car for you, based on input from the surrounding environment. Putting a computer behind the wheel may sound scary, but in road tests performed by Google and other companies, the cars have had a good safety record.

The benefits of driverless cars are potentially significant. The typical American spends an average of roughly 100 hours a year in traffic; imagine using that time in better ways — by working or just having fun. The irksome burden of commuting might be lessened considerably. Furthermore, computer-driven cars could allow for tighter packing of vehicles on the road, which would speed traffic times and allow a given road or city to handle more cars.”

I’ve been a fan of the idea since I saw a crowded freeway scene in Minority Report. The cars navigated themselves as the occupants chatted, watched movies, slept. I thought, my hour-and-a-quarter one-way commute would be a pleasure if I could spend it reading, writing and relaxing rather than driving.

The Stanford Racing Team’s victory in the DARPA Grand Challenge was a critical milestone in the development of driverless vehicles, giving initial proof of concept. They successfully navigated 150 miles of tough terrain through the Mojave Desert from Barstow, California to Primm, Nevada. While not the same as navigating a road full of human obstacles, finding a safe path through hardscrabble desert is no easy task.

Google hired the winning team members, and they’ve been successfully testing driverless vehicles on the roads of California, alongside regular street traffic, since their victory. They’re also working to bring driverless vehicles out of test status:

As of May 2011 Google is lobbying for legislation that would make Nevada the first state where driverless vehicles could be legally operated on public roads. The proposed legislation consist of two bills that are expected to come to a vote before the Legislature’s session ends in June 2011.

The real deal may be just around the corner, at least in one part of the country. Can’t wait.

Fission Alternatives for the Near Future

Popular Mechanics:

"today, in labs and at nuclear facilities, engineers are developing advanced fission technologies that could bridge the gap to fusion, and could also turn into important power sources in their own right."

Four alternative fission power generators, ready or near-ready for deployment. These four mitigate potential dangers revealed by the recent nuclear accident in Japan by using different fuels and newer containment technologies.

The Traveling Wave Reactor is particularly interesting for its technology as well as its list of early investors. Vinod Khosla is a well-known venture capitalist in the green tech space.

What Microsoft Should Do

Robert X. Cringely:

"What’s Steve Ballmer to do? I think that to thrive Microsoft has to turn itself into a very different company. Fortunately there are archetypes — other companies that have faced similar pressures yet gone on to reach even great corporate success. I think the time is fast coming for Microsoft to emulate Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway."

An interesting take on a direction Microsoft could take to preserve its value for shareholders. Cringely notes the company's languishing stock price, and details how Warren Buffett turned a declining carpet company into one of the world's pre-emminent business investment conglomerates years ago. The two companies face (or faced) similar outlooks.

One take-away: Ballmer should go.

∴ Facebook Comments

I've decided to experiment with the newer Facebook Comments plugin here on Bazinga Journal. This blog is published through Blogger, which has its own commenting system, but I chose to use the Facebook plugin instead.

Facebook's commenting system fulfills one critical requirement: I can exclude comments from anonymous posters. Nothing cuts down on inane, aggressive and pointless comments like requiring the poster to use his or her own real name. Whatever they have to say, they own it, no hiding from it.

The poster's name comes from his or her Facebook account. The code for the comment box comes from Facebook, and they handle user authentication. I just host the box and its contents.

The hosted comment box is fully integrated with Facebook itself, in fact, it's the same comment system used on Facebook. Comments not only appear under my blog article, but back on the commenter's Facebook wall and news feed, as well (uncheck the box when leaving a comment to defeat that). The commenter's Facebook friends may be drawn into the conversation depending on how the commenter has his or her privacy settings configured.

I'll keep an eye on the comments, if I get any, and exercise editorial control over them as I do over my posted writing. We'll see how it goes.

May 27, 2011

The iPad Effect

Jay Yarow, Business Insider:

“Microsoft’s consumer PC sales growth has pretty much never declined. Not even when Microsoft released Vista. Not even when the economy went in the toilet. But suddenly, the growth of sales is about to go negative, says Citi analyst Walter Pritchard.”

Click through for the chart detailing Microsoft’s consumer operating system sales over the past several quarters. This is not a sign of good things to come.

Microsoft makes its big money from two products only: Windows and Office. The rest is pocket change. Their online services have lost money every quarter for several years. And what consumer computing product debuted just as Windows sales turned negative?

How much time does CEO Steve Balmer have left before the axe comes down? Some big investors are already calling for his head.

AFR447: High-Altitude Stall

The preliminary report of the French BEA (their transportation incident investigatory agency) is in, and early indications are that the A330 comprising Air France flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean due to a high-altitude stall. That refers to a wing stall, not a jet engine compressor stall.

An aircraft wing lifts the airframe when sufficient lift can be generated. Lift is generated by passing air over the wing surface, causing a difference in air pressure between the upper and lower surfaces. That in turn pushes the wing up. If the wing moves through the air too slowly, it stalls, causing the airframe to descend rapidly.

In the case of AFR447, the crew made nose-up inputs to the flight controls and the aircraft climbed from its cruise altitude of 35,000 ft MSL to 38,000, its maximum. Continued nose-up input caused the wing to stall. For the next three and a half minutes the aircraft fell at a rate of about 11,000 feet per minute, until it impacted the ocean. It’s important to note that the aircraft was in the midst of storm clouds and was likely being thrown around by turbulence, adding to the disorientation felt by the pilots as they navigated by instruments alone in the dark of night.

Suspicion rests on frozen pitot tubes, which could have provided the flight management software with invalid airspeed indications leading to erroneous pilot inputs. The aircraft’s engines and flight controls performed correctly until the moment of impact. It would appear that a fully intact and functional widebody transport was flown into the ocean because the pilots were responding to bad data from a single component.

I wonder why the advanced-navigation equipment (GPS and/or INS) didn’t provide a backup against which the software could make a comparison, and alert the pilots to the discrepancy. Seems there might be a failure of software design here in addition to a failure of pitot tube industrial design.

May 26, 2011

Many Tornado-Destroyed Homes Are Uninsured

MSNBC:
Many of the states hammered by what's already the deadliest year for tornadoes in more than half a century have among the nation's highest rates of homes without hazard insurance despite being among the most twister-prone, data analyzed by The Associated Press shows. That means the regions that most need the insurance are often the exact places that don't have much of it. It also means many tornado victims may have a hard time getting compensated for their losses, putting more pressure on the federal government to help even though its assistance is limited by law.
The story goes on to detail one couple's loss. They dropped hazard insurance coverage on their home when the husband lost his job last year. They considered resuming their policy after the recent tornado outbreak in Arkansas, but didn't get around to it. Their house was destroyed by a tornado this week.

Man Hits Up Atlantic City Casinos For $15 Mil

pressofatlanticcity.com:
In all, Johnson racked up about $15.1 million in blackjack winnings during a six-month span, although he acknowledged incurring some undisclosed losses along the way.
My hero.

May 25, 2011

Dinner

A post from Kelly's (my wife) blog worthy of note.

Kelly Ann's Quilting: Dinner

With whom would you dine?

∴ Paying More, Getting Less

I wrote about Wired Magazine's introduction of their iPad subscription version yesterday. After downloading a few issues and mulling over how I'll use the electronic version of my favorite mag, I got to thinking about the price.

A one-year paper subscription to Wired has sold for $12 for the last thirteen years, since Conde Nast took over publication of the magazine. Before that, a one-year sub ran $40, and there was a lot less advertising content. It took longer to read through an issue, too.

Now customers can get the iPad version free with their paper subscription. The paper subscription price remains the same. It's more than a gimme for paper subscribers, though, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Customers looking to ditch their paper subscription for an electronic one will instead pay $20 per year. That seems odd. Customers will end up paying more for less: iPad customers get the creative content, paper subscribers get the content and the physical magazine. The New York Times made a similar move when they announced their online paywall a couple of months ago:

Meanwhile, at least where I live in New York, a print subscription which gets you the newspaper only on Sundays costs $19.60 every four weeks — and it comes with free access to the web and tablet versions of the newspaper. Which creates the slightly odd proposition that if you want to use the NYT’s iPad app, you’re marginally better off subscribing to the print newspaper on Sundays and throwing it away unread than you are just subscribing to the app on its own.

(Via wired.com.)

The reasons go to how magazines (and newspapers) pay for what they produce. The subscription price paid by customers largely goes toward defraying the cost of getting the product to them. Printing, packing, trucking, mailing, these are all expenses above and beyond those incurred by creating content.

A publication's creative content is largely paid for by advertising. When Conde Nast acquired Wired Magazine, they greatly increased the advertising content. That offset the cost of producing the magazine's creative content, which the publisher passed on to subscribers. The magazine became a cheaper purchase.

Where this comes into play for the iPad is how much advertising Conde Nast, or The New York Times Company, can squeeze into their electronic versions. After reading through a past edition, the answer is, "not much." Subscribers will have to bear an increased portion of the cost of producing creative content, because advertising won't be as big a part of the product mix.

Getting back to the "gimme" of getting the electronic version free with a paper subscription, think about what's really happening. Ad rates for the paper version are set based on how many copies are sold. By giving away the electronic edition free to paper subscribers, while making the price higher for electronic-only subscribers, the publisher incentivizes customers to keep taking the paper version. That will artificially bolster paper circulation numbers as well as ad rates.

In this light, giving away the electronic edition free to some, and charging a higher rate for it vs. the paper edition makes sense. The question a subscriber has to answer, then, is whether or not it's worth $8 more to stop receiving a paper copy that will end up recycled or, worse, in a landfill. For me, when my current paper subscription expires next year, the answer will likely be "yes."

Then I'll have to find a place to stash my iPad, poolside on vacation, when I want to go in for a dip. Look for an investing opportunity in poolside lockers Real Soon Now.

Moderate Drinking Protects Against Dementia

The Telegraph:

"Scientists found pensioners aged 75 or over who like a daily pint or glass of wine are helping to stave off senility. Those who drink alcohol are 30 per cent less likely to develop dementia and 40 per cent less likely to suffer Alzheimer's than those who were teetotal, according to the research."

(Via Consumerist.)

Weekend Martinis look even better!

Senior citizen jailed for growing pot for sick wife

Boing Boing:

“A 69-year-old husband in Ohio grew two backyard marijuana plants to help his wife, who has breast cancer. He was convicted of a felony and sent to jail.”

Dumb, tragic, culturally heinous.

Dumb, because state law intervenes against marijuana, but not the more-abused and more-destructive alcohol.

Tragic, because the one thing this woman needs (after her medical team) is her husband’s love and support. It’s difficult to provide those from jail.

Culturally heinous, because our society values so many objects and practices that are intellectually bankrupt and morally corrupt, yet cannot bring its prudish, neo-Victorian sensibilities to accept simple, straightforward truths. Truths like “you’re going to die, let’s make it easy on you.” Or, “you’re going to suffer greatly this treatment, let’s help you through it.”

Dell's XPS-15, the world's thinnest laptop. If you exclude other laptops

guardian.co.uk:

"Small print time: 'Based on Dell internal analysis as at February 2011. Based on a thickness comparison (front and rear measurements) of other 15' laptop PCs manufactured by HP, Acer, Toshiba, Asus, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony, MSI. No comparison made with Apple or other manufacturers not listed.'"

(Via DF.)

Just plain dishonest. And coming after teasing customers about a new machine to take on the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch model, the claim makes Dell look bad.

Dell knows how to build good hardware. They occasionally do so. This new example bears impressive processor, memory and hard drive specs, and the Windows 7 operating system is widely considered a competent effort and a huge improvement over Windows Vista.

But machine specs are only half the story. Dell apparently has very little awareness or intent to pursue good design. That much will be apparent when comparison photos surface.

Apple MacBooks top all Consumer Reports laptop categories

The Loop:

"The 13-inch model category was even worse for Apple’s competition. Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro took the top five of seven spots with Sony and Asus taking the final two."

(Via Cult of Mac.)

Validation of my selection.

CNBC Anchor Mark Haines Dies Unexpectedly

Mark Haines

CNBC:

“Veteran journalist Mark Haines, a fixture on CNBC for 22 years, died unexpectedly Tuesday evening. He was 65 years old.”

I always enjoyed watching Haines and Erin Burnett on Squawk Box, when I had the chance. I caught them a few weeks ago, shortly before Burnett left CNBC.

Now Haines is gone, no word on how, just “suddenly.” Shame. He was really good at what he did, making financial reporting and interviews useful and interesting. I’ll miss both of them when I next have the chance to tune in.

May 24, 2011

Wired Mag Subscriptions Come to iPad

Wired.com, via shawnblanc.com:

Finally. A year ago, when we launched the Wired iPad app, we promised that subscriptions were on their way. And indeed they were—it just took a while for the right path to become clear (much traveling between New York and Cupertino paid off). Today, I’m pleased to announce that we’ve arrived. If you want Wired to just come to your tablet each month, no effort required, it will. And if you’re already a Wired print subscriber, it won’t cost you a penny.

I've been a Wired Magazine subuscriber for about eighteen years, since shortly after issue #1. Now I can move my sub over to my iPad. Sweet.

 

May 22, 2011

∴ Union Terminal, Cincinnati

Cincinnati Union Terminal 1We were squired around Cincinnati and environs by our friends today. Their family grew up in nearby Ludlow, Kentucky, and we visited their old neighborhood as well as the big city.

The city boasts several beautiful old buildings, art deco in design and in good repair. It’s also home to several unique neighborhoods, some with terrific views overlooking the Ohio River.

I managed to grab a few shots of Union Terminal with my iPhone, now home to both a train station and multiple museums.

The station was constructed during the initial decline of passenger rail travel. The city had seen decades of need for a consolidated rail terminal, having been served by five separate stations until then. By the time the building opened for passenger service in 1933, though, the need had significantly declined.

Cincinnati Union Terminal 2

The soaring architecture retains its beauty, despite decades of conversion and disuse since the last steam passenger line departed in 1958. Amtrak abandoned the facility in 1972. It has hosted a shopping mall, flea markets, museums and, once again, trains. Amtrak eventually returned, and currently runs three trains per week through Union Terminal.

Cincinnati Union Terminal 3

May 21, 2011

∴ #5byBond: A View To A Kill

This week’s #5byBond film is A View To A Kill, from 1985. It’s Roger Moore’s last run as the British agent, his seventh. Moore is 57 years old as he makes this film, well past his prime as an action actor.

This film is also the last run for Lois Maxwell, as Moneypenny. Maxwell has played that role in each of the now-fourteen EON-produced Bond flicks.

Christopher Walken holds some promise for this film, playing the villain. He became the iconic, damaged Vietnam soldier in his 1978 turn as The Deer Hunter’s Nick.

Ditto Grace Jones as Walken’s henchman (henchwoman?). Sleek, exotic, she exudes a moderately frightening, athletic androgyny. She might reach through the screen and grab you.

The title song was sung by Duran Duran, which in 1985 had been on hiatus and reformed briefly for this recording.

My notes:

  • this film begins with more endless skiing. I don’t think Connery ever skied, not sure about the Bonds following Moore.
  • Bond switches to skiing on a “surfboard,” and the soundtrack switches to The Beach Boys “California Girls” as the bad guys fall down the slope. We’re beginning with a parody of past Bond spy flicks. At least we know what this film wants to be.
  • Patrick McNee plays Sir Godfrey! The old Avenger looks good, and McNee is an enjoyable actor. Refreshing appearance.
  • Grace Jones is a good villainess, exotic and fierce.
  • Tanya Roberts is the Bond Girl in this outing. A poster girl of the eighties, she was an it-girl when this film was made, as well as a marginal actress.
  • And the Rolls rolls into the lake. Ah, well. At least this film has had one decent automobile.
  • Nice waterfront location shots at Fisherman’s Wharf and elsewhere in San Francisco. This film could use more of them.
  • Bond has an electronic card from The Sharper Image that picks window sash locks. Dumb.
  • Moore is looking really old for his role this time around.
  • An Apple 2 is featured in one scene. Quite a throwback. Best gadget in the film.
  • James Bond escapes in a fire truck. With sirens blaring. I’m sure no-one will notice. The movie goes off the rails at this point, in keeping with the long-running tradition for second halves.
  • Bimbo geologist discovers Zorin’s secret plan: to flood fault lines with the contents of a lake, by detonating explosives inside a mine. The resulting earthquake will flood Silicon Valley and give Zorin a corner on the semiconductor market. I suppose no-one will notice that Zorin caused the disaster in the first place. Details.
  • Walken makes a good psychopath, chuckling while indiscriminately firing a machine gun into a crowd of mine employees. His employees.
  • A blimp! A blimp! Zorin’s escape vehicle is a blimp!
  • May Day becomes a good guy, sorta like Jaws did at the end of Moonraker. Unsatisfying. Bad guys should stay bad.
  • Bond saves day, gets girl, and we bid adieu to Roger Moore as 007.

A View To A Kill is often rated lowest among the Bond films. Still, I enjoyed it more than the awful Never Say Never Again last week and Octopussy the week before. Walken was an enjoyable nutjob, and Grace Jones was entertaining, if underused. She could have held down a fatter role playing queen goon.

As a Bond girl, Tanya Roberts was indeed a wash-out. Pretty to look at (in a 1980s sort of way), she couldn’t act, and her tawny voice was like nails on a blackboard for me.

Onward. Up next, Timothy Dalton’s first turn as 007 in 1987’s The Living Daylights.

∴ Weddin'

We came here to Wilder, Kentucky for a wedding. Tonight was the big event.

As mentioned, a friend's sister wed her long-ago high school sweetheart. The two had drifted apart after high school, he eventually married and fathered five children while she moved about the country, working. They hadn't seen or spoken to each other since the late seventies, until a class reunion brought them together again.

His marriage had ended and she was at loose ends, and one thing lead to another. Tonight they were married by a preacher who had been a classmate of theirs all those years ago. The assembled friends and family filled a small hall for the ceremony, food, beverages and music. And cake. Three layers of cake.

It was a nice, simple affair, and it was very nice to see two people very happy with one another again after all those years. Mazeltov.

May 20, 2011

∴ West, Again

We're heading west again, after just four days at home. A friend's sister is marrying, and we're invited. We decided to drive.

We live on the divide between northern and central Virginia, so we had a minor choice. Head north, into Maryland, then northwest through Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc, then south to Cincinnati, or due west through West Virginia and Kentucky. We picked West Virginia.

Our discovery: there is next to nothing along this route in West Virginia aside from mountains, valleys and the road, at least until we hit Charleston. And then a long line-up of cars behind a wreck, amid the afternoon commute. We're moving again, finally, and thinking about dinner, still three hours from our destination.

I hear Delta runs commuter flights from Dulles to Cincinnati and back, all day long. Maybe we can sell the car in Northern Kentucky and hop a flight home.

May 18, 2011

Your Car, On The 'Net

Seen Minority Report? Liked the autopilot cars that navigated themselves around the freeway at high speed while the occupants chatted, snoozed, surfed? This (Engadget) is the first step in that direction.

it uses 802.11p WiFi to let equipped cars see one another around blind corners, through other vehicles, or even chat with traffic signals up to a mile away

AFR447 Early Read: No Mechanical Problems

AVWeb:

Preliminary analysis of the flight data recorder from Air France Flight 447 has not revealed any mechanical malfunctions that would require safety recommendations for the A330 fleet, according to a notice Airbus sent to its customers this week. That notice sparked speculation in the French media that pilot error was the likely cause of the June 2009 crash, but BEA, the French accident investigation bureau, objected to such reports as “sensationalist” and premature. “At this stage of the investigation, no conclusions can be drawn,”

They’ll dig a little more on the mechanicals of this disaster. Too early to say anything about flight deck ops, or pilot capabilities, but this I know: long-haul captains earned those stripes. The two pilots aboard AFR447 flew the course they did for a reason, and I’m wondering why the aircraft following flew around the same storm cells they apparently flew through.

I flew with a Delta crew many years ago, to visit a buddy in far-off San Francisco. We were tooling along in our L-1011 TriStar, fat dumb and happy, somewhere south of Chicago, when the captain pointed out the left-side window at a distant thunderhead. “We have to keep fifty miles from those buggers,” he said. “Why so much room?”, I asked, the air traffic controller who wanted to know why he’d waste so much space and fuel on a boomer in the distance. “Company rules. Those things are dangerous.”

Yep, they’re dangerous. Updrafts, downdrafts, wind shear, you’re dead. Delta 191 is evidence of what a microburst can do, right down near the ground. Pilots know this stuff. Why’d AFR fly through the line, way out there in the Atlantic? Maybe the cockpit voice recorder will tell us. Stay tuned.

Infrared Pre-Detection of Japan Quake Possible

Slashdot:

A new paper presented at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland shows the rapid heating of the atmosphere directly above the fault days before the devastating earthquake hit. This is theorized to be the Lithosphere-Atmosphere-Ionosphere Coupling mechanism that occurs when large amounts of radon are released due to massive stress in the fault right before the quake. This can be detected with satellites analyzing infrared waves: 'The radioactivity from this gas ionizes the air on a large scale and this has a number of knock on effects. Since water molecules are attracted to ions in the air, ionization triggers the large scale condensation of water. But the process of condensation also releases heat and it is this that causes infrared emissions.'

Interesting, if true. The chain of events makes sense. Radon ionizes the air, which causes condensation, which releases heat. Infrared cameras aboard NOAA satellites can see in infrared, and computer software can match the detected pattern to known fault lines. Worth following.

United Airlines: Big Oops

MSNBC:

United Airlines apologized Wednesday for briefly restarting use of flight numbers of two planes that crashed after being hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

Spokesman Rahsaan Johnson blamed the reuse of flight numbers 93 and 175 on a “technical error.” He said the airline has taken steps to have the numbers removed from its computers.

Coding to make those numbers unavailable should have been done shortly after they were manually removed, years ago.

∴ #5byBond: Never Say Never Again

This week's #5byBond film is Never Say Never Again. It's both the return of Sean Connery to the role of James Bond and the last time he'll play it. It's also the last of three infrequent non-EON James Bond productions.

Never Say Never Again is a 1983 remake of the 1965 film Thunderball. Connery played Bond in that earlier film, as well. The production of this week's film was the result of a legal dispute between Kevin McClory, a collaborator with Ian Fleming on the screenplay forThunderball, and United Artists. McClory retained the rights to the story after Fleming died and produced this differently titled version.

This outing was a disappointment. It's the only case where we have two versions of the same story to compare, and Thunderball is clearly superior. The writing was snappier, the direction tighter, and the story moved right along as a result. By the middle of the second hour of Never Say Never Again I just didn't care anymore.

Much of the Bond mystique is squandered in this film. Exotic locations are treated like a studio backlot. Brandauer's Largo chuckles and smirks his way through the story. I thought it was his acting style, but after a while he comes off as a nutball. The notion of an aging spy, his yearning for days gone by, and trepidation for coming retirement, are ignored. Hell, they could have made half a movie on those aspects, alone.

My notes:

  • Sean Connery is wearing a toupee. I guess a balding Bond wouldn't do, even though the character is coming out of semi-retirement for this mission.
  • The clinic scenes are longer in this film than in Thunderball, but with less feeling of consequence.
  • "Let's hope we never have to use the real thing." - launch director for cruise misslie test. Anti-nuclear and anti-US sentiment were running high during the time this film was made, especially after the installation of the popular Mikhail Gorbachev as party chairman of the USSR. Kinda dumb ot put those words in the mouth of the US military, though.
  • The bomber was a British model in Thunderball. In this update the bomber is an American B-1.
  • Camera in skull to shoot video of SPECTRE's demands. Dumb.
  • Interesting that M says the Americans, NATO and the Japanese are collaborating with the Brits. At the time, Japan was ascendant in economic output and many of the western nations (and workers) feared them. How times have changed.
  • Largo's command lair has a window onto his girlfriend's dance studio?
  • And Largo's girlfriend is played by Kim Basinger. Ugh.
  • Remotely controlled shark? The electronic thingy attached to Bond's scuba tank seems to call the shark, which has some kind of radio device on its dorsal fin.
  • Bad editing of the shark pushing back-and-forth with Bond at the door on a sunken boat.
  • Some really bad music in this movie. Not just dated, but bad, even at the time.
  • Felix Leiter is played by a black actor, Bernie Casey. This is the only such casting until Jeffrey Wright in the 2006 version of Casino Royale.
  • Low automobile budget. Nothing Bond-worthy in sight.
  • The film slows down once Bond reaches the Bahamas. We've reached the point where this one goes downhill. (The location shots look more like Rio de Janeiro.)
  • More ugh. Basinger's character, Domino, steps away from the casino gaming tables to play an arcade video game. Another sign of the times. No class.
  • Largo is played by Klaus Maria Brandauer. He appears to play the role as if he's playing a prank. He's easily the least-convincing Bond villain to date.
  • Fatima Blush explodes! And disappears! Is she Houdini?
  • The plot gets muddy and generally uninteresting beyond the 1:30 mark.

This one wasn't worth a rainy Saturday afternoon, even. Take a nap, instead.

Up next: A View To A Kill, Roger Moore's last turn as the British spy, and the fourteenth Bond film overall..

Fastow Leaves Prison

MSNBC:

Federal prison officials have moved the former finance chief of failed energy giant Enron Corp. from a prison in Louisiana to a halfway house in Houston.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons website shows Andrew Fastow was moved from a Pollack, La., prison to a low-security community corrections facility in Houston. The Houston Chronicle reports he'll likely remain there until Dec. 17.

Andrew Fastow was the CFO of Enron, and the mastermind behind the "off-banace sheet" entities that defrauded Enron shareholders by giving the appearance of greater gross revenue than the company was actually booking. Seems he was convicted and imprisoned a long time ago, but it has only been five years. His actions, and the enabling actions of the people around him, lead to unemployment and loss of life savings for thousands of people. And he's out of prison today.

Al-Qaeda Appoints New Leader

Looks familiar. Just sayin'.

Saif Al-Adel Peewee Herman

May 17, 2011

Thinkpad X1 Appears For Sale

Thinkpad X1

Lenovo has delivered its rumored "thin and light" X1 model, and it's a very nice machine. This Is My Next... has a short review, while Engadget goes into greater depth.

This machine is an obvious competitor for the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air. If you're a Windows user attracted to the size and weight of the Air, this machine will be right up your alley.

If I were in the market for a new Windows laptop, this is what I'd buy.

Air France Flight Data Intact

From Business Insider:
One step closer to the facts.

May 16, 2011

∴ And Reach Home

Despite Delta's efforts to the contrary (by operating a hub at Atlanta Hartsfield, and flying MD-80 jets), we've arrived unmolested at Dulles. I'd forgotten that Delta inherited all of Northwest's narrow-bodies when the two merged. I'm used to flying newer 737s, I guess. They seem more comfy.

I was acquainted with the third rule of etiquette by a friend this week ("no-one cares about what you dislike"), so I won't go into detail. Suffice to say that I have new appreciation for the phrase "cattle car."

Otherwise Delta was a good ride, complete with airborne wifi. Even on those nasty old jets. I think we have a new airline for our travels.

∴ We Fly East

Our trip to SLC is ending as we head east. We're up and away from the Salt Lake valley, headed to Atlanta for a connection to Dulles.

I should know better than to connect in Atlanta, especially at the start of thunderstorm season. Already the weather map (fullscreenweather.com, or the Weather Underground app for iPad) is showing a pocket of pop-up boomers in the Atlanta general area.

We had good, but separate, experiences in SLC. I always enjoy getting together with Kenning. We spent the week mainly hanging out at his place, getting together with friends and eating well. We've managed to keep our friendship going since a chance meeting in sixth grade, some thirty-four years ago. We keep up through email mostly, visiting in person about once a year or so. Old friends are like a pair of worn blue jeans; something to look forward to putting on when you're wearing (or doing) something else. They are a comfort as we age.

Kelly's time was well-spent, as well. She's formed some very good friendships with a handful of other shop owners across the country, and this week was their opportunity to get together and cement those relationships. After talking about her time spent this week, I feel this might be an inflection point in her career as a business owner. Nothing definite, just a feeling. It is so rewarding for me to see her spread her wings and engage as an owner and businesswoman on this level.

Onward to Georgia.

Crazy Boot Fad

Crazy boot style from Mexico

Check out the crazy boot fad in Mexico, at right.

From MSNBC:

The boot in the photo measured 60 centimeters (23 inches) "but we made him a pair that were 90 centimeters (35 inches) long."

The mystery man from Huizache, a nearby village, wore his new boots to Mesquit Rodeo nightclub, where he danced bandido style with a handkerchief hiding his mouth and nose.

"He was dancing and having a good time and he didn't care what people were saying about him,"

Cool!

May 13, 2011

∴ We Got Skunked

Andrew suited up to go motorcycling

We headed out for a motorcycle ride this morning, intending to visit the Bingham Canyon Mine near SLC. It’s an encredibly huge strip mine, the deepest in the world (such a fine distinction). It has essentially removed an entire mountain and distributed it to the surrounding hills, removing valuable metals in the process. The mine itself is a sight to behold. (The vehicles in that image possess tires that are taller than a couple of people, standing one on another’s shoulders. That should provide some scale.) The mine is about two-and-a-half miles across at the top.

I’d been to the mine before, on a visit here years ago. We were both eager to return for another look. Today’s forecast of sun and temperatures in the seventies gave us an excuse to return on a bike.

So we suited up. And rode. And enjoyed the wind and sun. I haven’t been on a bike since I sold my old R65LS in 1996, so it was a treat just to get out on the road again. Our ride took us down the valley on an Interstate highway, then across the valley on a lesser highway, and up to the foothills on a two-laner. We pulled near and were ready to enter the mine access road.

And we got skunked at the gate.

Apparently a few someones, on bikes, visited the mine visitor’s center in the recent past and misbehaved. Maybe they went off-roading. The very pleasant woman at the gate wouldn’t elaborate. She did tell us that visitors on bikes are no longer welcome, but they’d be happy to welcome us back in a car. And that was that.

So we spent the rest of our ride heading north along the Oquirrh Mountains, and rode past the smelting facility where Rio Tinto turns the mining product into near-pure copper ingots. There’s an interesting narrative of the process at Wikipedia.

From an airplane one can see that the sediment pools alongside the tailings piles are the nicest shade of aquamarine. Not a translucent aquamarine, as in the clean, clear waters of the Caribbean. Opaque, plastic-like aquamarine, like a yard toy. I think I saw a bird that color, once. Never any water.


Kelly’s adventure at Quilt Market continues. She spent yesterday in a series of short-form classes and longer seminars. She finished her workday in a seminar put on by her friends, Kizer & Bender. They speak about marketing and promotions at retail conventions. A couple of photos from our shop were used in last evening’s presentation, and Kelly was mentioned during the talk. Since then she’s had people walk up to her to say hello. My wife, the rock star. I will be pleased to spend the next decade carrying her bags.

Today she’s on her own, surveying the trade floor and taking notes on her iPad. At some point Kelly will meet with a distributer and submit orders. It’s been a good Market for her so far, with two days to go. I’ll continue to enjoy my time at Kenning’s.

Sinatra Slang

The Chairman’s speech, via DF:

FRANK SINATRA SLANG:

“If we’re gonna be friends, we have to get one thing straight. This is Sinatra’s world. You and me? We just live in it.” - The Mask

Amazing how many of these terms have become part of the lexicon. Hit the link for a full list.

Kutcher To Two And A Half Men?

MSNBC:

Two sources close to "Two and a Half Men" told The Hollywood Reporter that it will indeed be "That '70s Show" star Ashton Kutcher who will be replacing Charlie Sheen.

Ugh.

∴ Time For A New TV

Kelly’s off on her own now, attending the International Quilt Market here in SLC. It’s a trade show that gathers fabric, pattern, book and other vendors from around the world in one place. Quilt shop owners attend to see what’s new in the trade and place orders for the coming months. She’ll stay at a local hotel where she can more easily get around to classes, seminars and the Salt Palace trade floor. The hotel itself is a well-preserved and maintained old-architecture building of about one hundred year’s age. Kelly’s industry friends are staying there, and nearby, so this arrangement works for her.

We spent an hour or so at the University field house gym after delivering Kelly to the hotel. There’s an indoor track there, looping around the inside walls a floor above the gym space and providing a view onto the gym floor, 7.5 laps to the mile. Good cushioned surface for a run.

I was about halfway through my five-miler when I realized why I was breathing heavier than usual. SLC sits at about 4200-feet elevation, but my home sits at about 400. So I’m breathing thinner air, getting less oxygen than my heart is accustomed to, and feeling the effects. I was satisfied to finish the run and head home for a shower and lunch.

Here’s the trouble with having a large, analog television in your home a few years after the big switch to digital: it’s hard to get rid of. Though the old TV still produces a decent picture and works fine with a digital converter, it doesn’t hold a candle to newer LCD and LED-LCD models. And no-one’s willing to pay money for it, apparently.

Enter Freecycle. Think Craig’s List, but the price is zero, and there’s no hookers. Kenning had multiple inquiries within hours of posting the old TV. By mid-day the next day it was gone, freeing space for a gnarly new flat-screen model.

It’s an LED-LCD type, 47-inches diagonal, with a beautiful picture. Manufactured by the Korean LG, assembled in Mexico, delivered and sold in the US. This is one of two sets I’d be looking at if I were buying again, alongside a 46-inch Samsung. They both provide terrific pictures for reasonable prices.

We enjoyed an evening meal with Kenning’s friends, Ted and Mel, at Martine, a French-ish cafe in downtown SLC. Fine dining, a bottle of good wine, and enjoyable talk. The place offers contemporary tapas and entrees, an extensive wine list and a few craft beers on tap and in bottles. I was warned off cocktails, however. Seems there's a law in the state against making them with more than an ounce-and-a-half of liquor. A proper martini is made with two to three ounces, depending on your preferred recipe. No matter, the vino was fine.

The dining is a highlight of this town. It was fairly sparse before 2002 or so, when the Olympics came to town. The resulting development transformed the city. Now you can find cuisine in many styles and ethnicities. One of the benefits of city living.

We spent the last hour or two watching an old Bond film, Octopussy (this week’s #5byBond feature), streamed from Netflix. This one came near the end of Roger Moore’s run as Bond, and may have been the low point up to now. I’m going to skip the notes this week and defer to John and Dan at The Talk Show, where they’ve dissected it and labeled the show Palming the Egg after Bond’s swapping of the Fabergé egg at auction. I think that move qualifies as a boner.

May 12, 2011

Popular Little Things

From BGR:

Apple has been pushing its component suppliers and manufacturers to increase production to between 2.5 and 3 million iPad 2 units per month

That's a lot of new toys out there. This is Apple's golden age.

∴ Greetings From SLC

Our experiment in wifi-connected flight ended here Tuesday morning, under clouds and gloom. Salt Lake City is not known for rain, but its residents enjoyed a few days of wet this past week.

After a bit of food shopping with Kenning and a stop at the wine shop we were back at his place for an evening of cocktails, fine dining, good wine and chuckles. His house is a small, craftsman-style bungalow set upon the first foothill of the Wasatch Mountains. The neighborhoods here are serviced by rear alleys, eliminating the gaping maws of garage after garage. SLC neighborhoods tend to be walkable, orderly affairs with a growing number of xeriscaped yards among the otherwise tidy green carpet lawns. It's a short hike uphill to the University of Utah.

A Lemon Drop for the lady and Vespers for us served as refreshment while Kenning cooked dinner. Vacations or a weekend afternoon are always a good time to enjoy a cocktail early, before dinner ideas begin to cloud the picture. Ours came about today after a nice walk through the neighborhood and around a local cemetery.

The Lemon Drop was notable, it's the first one I've gotten right since switching the sweetener from table sugar to agave nectar. Sweeter than sugar, it imparts a mild honey-like flavor and must be used sparingly. I've settled on an exchange of a half-measure of agave nectar for one-measure of simple syrup. If you're looking for an alternative to the fructose content of table sugar (and why wouldn't you, after the recent New York Times Magazine article), agave nectar is available in many supermarkets. The Lemon Drop particulars:

  • one part vodka, preferably limón
  • one part Triple-Sec
  • one part fresh-squeezed lemon juice (don't skimp)
  • one-half measure agave nectar

Shake, shake, shake with ice until cold, cold, cold, and serve in a chilled cocktail glass. Kelly enjoyed hers.

Dinner was a delicious lasagna, with red sauce approved-of even by Kelly. (She's a great cook who enjoys the craft of food preparation. And a minor food critic. I said minor.) We enjoyed a fine Cline Mourvedre wine with the food, and a small glass of port to cap the evening. It was a very enjoyable beginning to our visit.

Tomorrow's entertainment: time for a new TV.

May 10, 2011

The Obligatory Post From Altitude

Six-and-a-half miles up, 350 down, 1475 to go. I've flown across the US many times, but due to poor airline selection (I'm looking your way, United and USAir) I've never sat in wifi-connected discomfort. Delta to the rescue. We're on our way west, to the great state of Utah. Kelly will attend a trade show for our small business while I'll cool my heels at Kenning's place, sipping martinis. Mostly clear skies, a few bumps, and a carry-on full of technology and reading materials. My life-as-entertainment continues after the hop.

May 9, 2011

This Is Kinda Dumb

Cult of Mac reports that Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, ranked third in a list of “engineering heroes,” from a survey of UK undergraduate engineering students.

the Apple CEO has ranked third in a list of Engineering Heroes behind Isambard Kingdom Brunel (creator of the first major British railway) and James Dyson (who makes the world’s best vacuum cleaners bathroom hand dryers).

Jobs beat out Bill Gates, who came in at the number four spot. He also ranked higher than Nikola Tesla, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Charles Rolls, Henry Royce and Thomas Edison.

Come again? Jobs is a technology visionary, no doubt. An astute businessman, for certain. Newton and Einstein only discovered esoteric aspects of the intrinsic structure of the Universe. The Principia Mathematica. Gravitation. The calculus. Relativity. Small stuff.

And they were all bested by James Dyson, who engineered a very nice vacuum cleaner and hand dryer.

There’s a reason they’re call undergraduates.

Thunderbolt Is Key To the Portable Mac's Future

Marco Arment posted a succinct piece today on the future of Apple's laptop computing line, and how it revolves around their new Thunderbolt port technology.

Apple has rolled out new MacBook Pro and iMac models over the past months, both possessing this new port technology. If Marco is right about the company superseding Ethernet and Firewire ports with the new connector, and doing so on the next generation MacBook Pro 15-inch model, I think we can expect to see the Apple laptop lineup evolve into the following:

  • 15- and 17-inch wedge-shaped MacBook Pros. As Marco notes, inclusion of a Thunderbolt port allows these machines to shed their Ethernet and Firewire ports, which require current models to be as thick as they are. I think these models lose their internal optical drives, not due to space considerations but as an industry-leading move away from that aging technology. Software is downloadable or may be offered on cheap USB flash drives, while movies may be streamed. DVDs make for poor backup media. For holdouts, the nternal optical drive is easily and cheaply replaced by an external unit. Steve Jobs said (via All Things D) that the MacBook Air's industrial design will be the future for laptops. Here's where we see it spread further.
  • a merged 13-inch MacBook Pro/Air with fewer ports and SSD-only persistent storage. The only significant differences between these two machines today are the Pro's newer, faster processors (expect them in new Airs, soon), available hard drives (the loss of which would be less an issue as SSD component prices fall) and connector ports. This Pro's built-in optical drive goes away, as well. Reduced component prices allow the base model to replace the current entry-level 13-inch white MacBook, too. Often overlooked, this lowest-priced MacBook currently counts for one-third of Apple’s notebook business, which itself equals 73% of all Mac sales (Shaw Wu, analyst for Sterne Agee via Cult of Mac).
  • an 11-inch MacBook Air. This model will look and feel more like an iPad with an attached keyboard as OS X adopts more of iOS's interface features in the upcoming Lion refresh.

May 8, 2011

Chuck Sez, "No-Ride"

Chuckie White-Shoes promises a no-ride list for Amtrak in the wake of the OBL raid. We will have the same annoying hassle riding the rails that we've come to love hate flying the friendly skies.

I feel safer already.

"The Crazy" Joins The X-Factor

Simon Cowell left American Idol after last season. His was the only criticism worth hearing each season, and the judging has gone straight vanilla in his absence. Cowell has a new show for American television debuting this fall on Fox, called The X-Factor. Now comes news that Paula "The Crazy" Abdul will join him as a judge on the new show.

Maybe The X-Factor will restore a little needed criticism to the mix. In the mean time, it's James all the way.

∴ A Vast Wasteland

Newton Minow, once chairman of the FCC, called television a “vast wasteland.” He was mostly correct. Completely correct if you consider the seventies, and he was speaking in 1961.

But over the past ten or so years we’ve enjoyed a bit of a renaissance on the small screen. You must sift through the detritus, read the terrain, search for signs of passing (to paraphrase Justine Hanna in Heat) to find the good stuff, but it’s there. I’ve slowly accumulated hours of viewing a few gems among the detritus. Herewith, my slowly-budding list.

  • Battlestar Galactica. The first outing for this show’s namesake was hokey crap. As a kid I watched it anyway. The second time through was gritty, harsh, sexy, redeeming; what you’d see at the near-end of humanity’s run when our now-sentient machines have had enough of us.
  • Arrested Development. This is not slapstick. Not quite highbrow, either. Just funny, in a perverse sort of way. You know all the actors. See them make television worth laughing with, because they’re in on the joke. A follow-on movie is in production, for 2012 release.
  • The Wire. Oh. My. God. The best writing and teleplay I have ever enjoyed. Bonus points because I unknowingly drove past the towers (after they came down) and the low-rise on my way to visit my sister’s family in Bal’mer. Multiple times. (David Simon is making Treme right now.) Omar comin’, yo!
  • Firefly and Serenity. Joss Whedon’s scifi. Just starting out on this one. There’s a cohesiveness to the cast that’s hard to define. A milder grittiness, akin to Battlestar, but without the impending doom. BTW, he wrote The Avengers, in production now for a 2012 release, starring Robert Downey and Scarlett Johansson, among others. (Scarlett can do no wrong for me after the beautiful, evocative, vacant Lost In Translation. I loved that film.)

In current production,

  • Community. Any show that mixes a crew of community college no-accounts with a replay of My Dinner With Andre is doing something interesting. This show’s drama/comedy writing is among the best in contemporary broadcast. Give it a couple of episodes, it’ll grow on you. Bonus points for snagging Chevy Chase.
  • Big Bang Theory. Chuck Lorre’s other show. A show in which I finally feel at home. These are my people. At least insofar as I can finish their sentences. Bonus fashion points for Sheldon. And for giving name to this blog.
  • Archer. Rude, crude, funny. Archer is a hard-drinking, hard-womanizing, clueless not-so-secret agent. Animated. Swill a martini with this one.

Netflix rents some by the season. Most get at least a 9/10 on imdb.com. You could look it up.

Bedbugs, Google, etc.

One strategy among technology startups is to push-push-push until Google notices your work, sees an opening in the market, and buys your talent.

This guy doesn’t exhibit any outstanding talent, or enlightened web design. What he exhibits is a useful service, a la Consumer Reports. For bedbugs. Yum.

May 7, 2011

And The Wire

Tim Carmody posts another gem on kottke.org, bringing another facet to The Wire's Omar Little.

I've always thought of The Wire's Omar Little in terms of the Greek hero Achilles, man-killer, the matchless runner, conflicted hero of Homer's The Iliad -- one of the few figures in Greek literature who seems immortal, knows he's doomed, and doesn't care.

Omar comin', yo.

Citizen Kane

Tim Carmody, guest-writing on Jason Kottke's kottke.org, produces a terrific short essay on the classic film, Citizen Kane.

Tim is a fine writer, and kottke.org is one of the reasons that the blog format has become public writing for the new century. It will feed your mind.

Now I have to go watch CK all over again.

New iMac, Unveiled

Cult of Mac has an exhaustive out-of-the-box review of the new Apple iMac. Highlights:

I’ve been testing a 27-inch model with a 3.1Ghz Core i5 chip (the biggest, fastest stock model currently available at the Apple Store), and it may sound silly, but it’s almost too much machine for my needs. The screen is so big, I have to sit back lest I get motion sickness. And the i5 chip has power to spare for someone like me, who doesn’t do high-end video or graphics work.

...

The screen resolution is 2560×1440, which makes it 109ppi (the new 21.5-inch iMac has a 1920×1080 screen resolution or 102ppi). It’s a 16:9 aspect ratio, the same international standard format of HDTVs. And like HDTVs, it’s LED-backlit, which means it instantly reaches full brightness and offers consistent illumination across the full length of the screen. I can’t see any light blotches, dead pixels or other blemishes. It’s 27-inches of big bright high-resolution screen.

...

The iMac is a great all-in-one desktop machine for a reasonable price. The entry-level iMac starts at $1,199 and the cheapest 27-inch iMac is $1,699. If you stump for the i7 chip, available as a build-to-order option, it’s a performance beast.

The author runs his new iMac with a pair of Thunderbolt-connected external monitors, giving him a display area covering 5400 pixels and nearly five feet of desk space. Awesome, even if overkill.

This is a pretty sweet machine.

May 6, 2011

∴ #5byBond: For Your Eyes Only

This week’s outing from the Bond oeuvre is For Your Eyes Only, the twelfth film in the franchise.

My notes:

  • awesome 80s hairdo on Sheena Easton as she sings the theme song.
  • first notice of “Universal Exports,” on the side of the helicopter that picks up Bond from the cemetery. He is visiting the grave of his wife, Teresa.
  • Blofeld says they can do a deal, that he’ll buy Bond a delicatessen. What?!
  • good start to the movie, Bond dispatches Blofeld once and for all.
  • beautiful locations in this film, around the Greek isles.
  • the Lotus Esprit returns!
  • really bad musical score.
  • the identigraph thanks you for your attention.
  • Bond is looking a little aged in this outing. Moore has just two more outings as Bond after this.
  • Bibi is a bonehead. Fit, blond bonehead.
  • skiing, endless skiing.
  • the post-Connery Bond films all seem to go downhill around halfway through. This one lurches toward derailment during the endless ski pursuit, when Bond is chased by two motorcycles as he skis through a chalet and across a dining table. And down a bobsled run. This is the gimmicky crap that made later Bond films second rate. It won’t improve until Daniel Craig comes along.
  • Bond scores goals on the rink by putting thugs into the net. Scoreboard shows three goals.
  • Countess von Schlaf sounds like a name Mel Brooks would come up with.
  • the plot actually gets a little better after the endless skiing has, uh, ended.
  • Ugh. Moore has some nasty lower back hair goin’ on.
  • Another example of a bad guy not killing Bond, this time by keelhauling.
  • All but two guards at St. Cyril’s are conveniently asleep, in a bunkhouse!

This was actually an interesting story, and the locations were beautiful. The Bond Girl is Melina Havelock, played by Carole Bouquet. Very lovely. So-so actress.

This is the first of five Bond films directed by John Glen, an assistant director on previous Bond films. This one, at least, wasn’t bad.

Up next week: Octopussy. Really.

May 5, 2011

Bon Appetit

BoingBoing has a brief piece on the Listeria bacteria, and how it has adapted to living at refrigerator temperatures.
all it takes is some improper handling of the meat, somewhere along the production chain, and a little listeria can bloom—inside your fridge—into a potentially serious problem.
Throw out what you knew about keeping cooked food safe in a chilled refrigerator. In at least one case, it's just not so.

War Dogs

wardog512.jpgWTOP has a brief story on the fact that US forces, storming the bin Laden compound last week, had among them a highly trained working dog. I've included here the image from that story of a soldier, and his dog, jumping out of a helicopter.

That's one extremely well-trained dog.

iPhone Might Get Over-the-Air OS Updates

9To5Mac reports that iOS5, the next version of the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch operating system, will possess the ability to update itself over-the-air. Customers would no longer have to plug in their device to get the latest operating system version. Android devices have long had this capability.

If true, this marks the next step away from tethering the iPhone and iPad to a computer. Music may already be purchased over-the-air, or streamed from a number of services. There has also been speculation that Apple will unveil a cloud-based service for storing music, to be streamed directly to user's devices on-demand. Netflix already offers iPhone and iPad users streaming of movie and television content. A number of apps, notably Instacast, allow the user to stream or store audio and video podcasts via Wifi or 3G.

∴ Apple's Unused Drive Hybridization

New iMacs, released this past week, include a new controller chip (Cult of Mac) that could dramatically improve hard drive access time for little increased cost. Apple, however, chose to skip implementation of the chip's drive caching capability.

Computers have suffered from a number of speed bottlenecks over the years. One by one, they've faded. Moore's Law eventually eliminated the CPU as an impediment by cramming more transistors onto the chip. Cheap SDRAM prices have made plentiful memory common. The last bottleneck, hard drive access, fell as computer manufacturers began to adopt solid state drives (SSDs) for persistent storage, replacing traditional, spinning-platter hard drives. SSDs differ from processors and memory in one critical way, though: price.

CPUs and SDRAM have become cheaper over time, as have traditional hard drives, even as their speed and capacity greatly increased. SSDs are still fairly expensive. For example, upgrading a new iMac from a 1-terabyte hard drive to a 256-gigabyte SSD will set you back $500. The resulting machine will be blindingly fast, but will possess dramatically less storage for applications and data. While 256-megabytes is a plentiful amount of storage, for some users it isn't enough.

Hybrid drives are a good cure for this problem. By mating a small amount of SSD memory to a traditional hard drive, users get somewhat faster, still-cheap, and spacious storage. A controller chip onboard the drive makes the two units appear as one. It also controls which data gets copied to the SSD memory for quicker access. Seagate already sells such drives. Their performance is better than a hard drive alone, but not as quick as a full SSD. For that they'd need much larger SSD memory mated to the hard drive, or a way to logically combine a separate SSD and hard drive into one. The latter is exactly what the new Intel controller chip, built into new iMacs, can do.

The Intel Z68 controller chip can combine two separate drives, one a full SSD and the other a traditional hard drive, into a single volume. Importantly, it allows for the use of any SSD, and any hard drive. Manufacturers and users can select the right size/price trade-off. Since the SSD component is a full, multi-channel SSD in its own right, the performance gain can be great while the price bump reasonable, using a 40- or 80-gigabyte SSD. The user need never deal with two separate places to store programs and data.

Unfortunately, Apple appears to have chosen not to use this capability. New iMacs may be ordered with a hard drive, an SSD, or both. In the case of both, Apple indicates that the SSD will act as the boot drive, loaded with OS X and any pre-installed software. The hard drive ships empty. Without the drive caching capability, which goes unmentioned by Apple, the two drives appear as separate volumes and provide speed, or space, but not both at once.

It makes me wonder if Apple is going to make the new chip's caching capability a feature of future iMacs, perhaps as a technical refresh in a few months. What is clear is that by enabling the Z68's caching capability, an inexpensive, smaller SSD can bring significant improvement to otherwise average hard drive performance, killing the last speed bottleneck while not breaking the customer's budget.

May 4, 2011

New Geek Pastime

Ruminating on what he'd buy from among Apple's current lineup (augmented yesterday by new iMac desktop machines), Marco Arment highlights the latest geek pastime: playing "What would I buy?"

I should really think of the iMac, therefore, more like a laptop — but one that trades its portability and small size for a much larger screen and slightly better hardware. And that doesn’t sound like a very appealing tradeoff, since you can plug laptops into external monitors, and since many iMac owners will still want to own a laptop for portability.

It’s worth thinking about this if you’re considering an iMac purchase: will you still want a laptop? If so, will you be better served by just buying a fast laptop and connecting an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor to it at your desk?

I like his thinking. A MacBook Pro plus a 27-inch Cinema display is the cat's ass. The combo provides a powerful, capable, portable machine with a beautiful, large display for desktop use. I wrote about such a setup here.

Marco can be found here (his blog) and here (his podcast with Dan Benjamin).

May 3, 2011

Information As Disinformation

ITWorld relays that the raid on bin Laden's compound yielded a trove of intelligence data.

It also was being reported that the data is being sifted through at a secret site in Afghanistan. "Hundreds of people are going through it now. It's going to be great even if only 10 percent of it is actionable," an unnamed official was quoted by Politico, a Washington, D.C.-based news website. "They cleaned it out. Can you imagine what's on Osama bin Laden's hard drive?"

The site quoted an anonymous government source describing the data as "the motherlode of intelligence."

Which is more valuable, having bin Laden's secrets, or saying you have them? What better demoralizes and destabilizes his followers, hunting them over the coarse of time, or letting them know you can with greater precision? Because it doesn't seem all that likely that a marginalized leader, cut off from the world except by courier, would have all that much current, relevant information at his disposal. We assume a computer puts someone in touch with everyone else, but we're also told that bin Laden had no Internet connectivity in his compound.

Makes me wonder, did US forces glean information from the raid, or hatch disinformation? Or both?

Second Black Box From AFR447 Found

The cockpit voice recorder from Air France's flight 447 has been found, the last piece of the puzzle needed to determine what brought down the Airbus A300. From MSNBC:

The discovery of the audio recorder, two days after the flight data recorder was fished up, brings investigators even closer to the cause of the crash as it should hold recordings of cockpit conversations during the flight's final moments.
"We can now hope to find out what truly happened within the next three weeks," French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani told RTL radio.

 

 

May 2, 2011

TomTom Is Not Your Friend

TomTom's steps to success:

  1. sell lots of fun GPS units, which communicate their speed data back to TomTom, to unsuspecting consumers
  2. sell the speed data to the cops
  3. profit!
  4. consumers find out. uh-oh!

From Slashdot:

As smartphones with GPS capabilities wear away at the dedicated GPS market, vendors like Tom Tom need to find new revenue streams. Tom Tom decided it would be a good idea to 'share' (i.e., sell) aggregated data from their users to Dutch law enforcement. The company claims they assumed that the data would be used to improve traffic safety and road engineering, and were shocked, shocked to discover that instead the police used it to figure out the best places to put speed traps.

Awesome.

It's the Little Things That Matter

The Christian Science Monitor reports (via BoingBoing) that satellite phone calls made by Osama bin Laden's bodyguard were instrumental in guiding the US to his hiding place.

US intelligence agencies tracked the Kuwaiti bodyguard's calls from the compound to Al Qaeda associates in the cities of Kohat and Charsada in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, a narrative that was corroborated by several sources.

bin Laden's compound was without Internet or phone connectivity, reportedly to avoid the above scenario. Oops.

Comic

No, not really. But amusing (via Cult of Mac) in an "everybody's really glad about it, so just laugh along" sort of way.

Front Pages Bear the News

Worth a look.

I'm glad I live among people who train so hard and so thoroughly that when the day came, and despite complications, they reached halfway around the world, into a sovereign country possessing nuclear weapons and a very efficient internal security agency, and put one round right through the bad guy's eye. And escaped into the night, with no losses among them.

And that's that.

iPad Magazine Subs Improve

The Wall Street Journal reports that Time, Inc. has struck a deal with Apple to provide free access to their iPad editions to print subscribers.

Starting Monday, subscribers to Sports Illustrated, Time and Fortune magazines will be able to access the iPad editions via the apps, which will be able to authenticate them as subscribers.

iPad magazine subscriptions have stalled in the time they've been available. Subscribers complain about the need to subscribe twice, and that electronic editions are more expensive than those in print. This change in policy makes the electronic editions of Time, Inc.'s magazines instantly available to all print subscribers at no additional cost.

Time, Inc. is the largest magazine publisher in the US. Hopefully other publishers will follow their lead.

May 1, 2011

Found

Black box data unit from AF447

Searchers have found the flight data recorder data unit from Air France flight 447, the trip from Rio de Janeiro to Paris that ended in a mid-Atlantic disaster. From MSNBC:

France's air accident investigation agency BEA said a search by a submarine probing 3,900 meters (12,800 feet) below the ocean's surface located and recovered the unit Sunday morning. The unit is now aboard the Ile de Sein, a ship that's helping conduct the probe, the statement said.

The statement also included photos of the recorder — a red cylinder partially buried in sand on the sea floor. Judging from the photos, the unit appeared to be in good condition.

AFR447 came to its end a couple of hours after departing Rio, June 1, 2009, while passing through an area of severe thunderstorms. There has been speculation that a frozen pitot tube, allowed to freeze by a faulty heating element, sent erroneous airspeed data to the aircraft's autopilot. This may have caused the aircraft's flight management system to mis-handle the aircraft. Resolution of the mystery is impossible without data from the flight data recorder.

This is the fourth undersea search for the aircraft wreckage and data recorders. The searches have cost in excess of $40 million, under-written by the French government. It's worth noting that the French government is a part-owner of the aircraft manufacturer Airbus; AF447 was an Airbus A300 twin-jet. Searchers are still looking for the cockpit voice recorder.

This is an incredible find, essentially a needle in a haystack, 12,800-feet under the sea.

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