Apple is Making Recycling Cool

There was an Apple Event on Monday to announce a new, smaller iPhone and a new, smaller (or same size, depending on perspective) iPad Pro. Scanning through the keynote from the event, this caught my interest:

According to MacRumors, “Liam” can take down an iPhone every 11 seconds. Currently there is the prototype located in Cupertino, and a second robot being installed in Europe. Assuming zero “downtime”, a single “Liam” can process 2,866,909 iPhones per year. That’s a small number considering that 215 million iPhones were sold in 2015. But, cool nonetheless.

Coolness aside, we’ve got to stop “personifying” non-humans. It’s getting creepy. Siri, Cortana, Liam. Let’s not.


And Now (due to “Synod Fatigue”) Something Completely Different

To quote C-3PO, “I can’t bear to watch.” So, instead, a roundup of fun “technology” links:

  • According to this article from Reuters, Apple has argued to a New York federal court in a written brief that it is “impossible” to unlock iPhones without a user’s passcode, due to improvements to encryption for iOS version 8 and later.
  • The new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens”, continues to trend, with the release of the latest theatrical trailer during halftime on last night’s “Monday Night Football” program (and millions of geeks are forced to watch football on TV). Of course, you could just wait a couple more minutes and see it nearly anywhere on-line. Hopefully geeks were smart enough to realize that.
  • Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 4.29.54 PMWe won’t know until we are much nearer to December 18 whether the latest Star Wars movie incarnation is any good or not, but one thing we can agree upon is that Disney’s purchase of LucasFilm has raised merchandising to completely new and stratospheric levels. You want Christmas gift ideas for the Quartermaster and his family of wookies? Look no further than this, or this, or:
  • Speaking of the Power of the Force (of advertising), (this is truly one of the slickest ad pieces EVURRRR), along with the movie media blitz, a new Star Wars Battlefront game drops on November 17 for Xbox One, PS4, or PC.
  • Shifting franchises slightly, astronomers theorize that they may have discovered a real life example of a Dyson Sphere (no, not one of those vacuum thingies).

Astronomer 1: That star (billions of light years away)….. Has a strange flashing thing going on….. 
Astronomer 2: Magnify.
Astronomer 1: Inconclusive. 

Astronomer 2: I bet it’s a Dyson sphere, just like in Episode 130 of ST:TNG!
Astronomer 1: I’ll notify the press!

Review: BaoFeng UV-5R+

I read somewhere that the Chinese government started electronics company BaoFeng to sell radios and electronics at prices at or near cost solely to disrupt sales for Japanese makers.

51VC0e3tGjLI’ve had the BaoFeng UV-5R+ for a couple of years now, and while I’ve fiddled with it a bit, I’ve never had occasion to really use it for anything. I just added it to my modest collection of items for when/if the SHTF.

This weekend we went camping, and the boys have a pair of inexpensive MidLand radios, with 21 channels. But the BaoFeng doesn’t do just walkie bands, it also does shortwave (you can even connect a more powerful antenna) and FM bands, and the menu system (while a bit clunky now that we’re all accustomed to using smart phones) offers a wide array of options and features. I’ve used it to scan LEO/fire/emergency bands, and I’ve managed to tune some shortwave frequencies too.

I googled the manual for the boys’ Midland radios so I could tune the frequencies for the channels, and voila, my BaoFeng is a glorified walkie talkie, with better range and reception. Mrs. Q took the kids down to the beach, while we’re a mile or two up the shore fishing, and we’re still in touch. The rechargeable battery lasted the entire weekend without a charge, and the radio includes an LED lamp (solid, or blinking) that provided another light source for getting around in the dark.

The boys loved using call signs and talking in code, and since we also had to take two cars to schlep all of our stuff (and the two dogs) it was great to communicate back and forth and coordinate things like bathroom stops.

Overall, it’s a well-built, sturdy little unit, and a bargain at the current price. My grandfather was a career radio operator for the selective service, and I loved going into his radio room and playing with his CB. I was lucky, because no other grandkids got to even sit down there. He would never have believed that the day would come that a person could purchase a digital shortwave TRANSMITTER for less than $31 from a Chinese company.

I still remember the way it smelled when his radio equipment was warm and running, with the dust and hot vacuum tubes. I was never allowed to touch the HAM stuff, but I loved watching him get on the radio and rattle of callsigns and tap out Morse code faster than the Western Union. Remember the Battle of Yavin in Star Wars? Those radio transmissions sounded eerily similar to what would come through on his radios, with the slightly strident vocal distortion. The sound engineer for LucasFilm must have run the dialogue through a HAM radio. 

I can imagine that with a few UV-5R+’s (or similar, there are a range of different units) in our community, we’d have a backup method for communicating if phone/cell networks ever go down.

Big Brother asks for eyes in your bedroom to help “trap burglars”

Head of Scotland Yard (channelling P.T. Barnum) suggests that homeowners — as sort of a DIY project — should install video cameras for CCTV in their homes. Why? So it can match faces inside dwellings with the 12 million images of “suspects and offenders” in Big Brother’s computer database.

Big Brother orders you to FEEL SAFE!

The Apple Watch: Predicting the Company’s First Epic Fail in a Long Time

14782757905_ec777c740f_oThe Book of Genesis tells us that after God created day and night, he set the lights in the sky, including the two great lights of the sun and moon, “to serve at signs to mark the sacred times, and days and years.” (1:14). Thus, from the beginning of Creation, God gave us a calendar and a way of observing the passage of time and seasons. Time is not merely an abstraction, but rather a gift given by God to help us order ourselves and our lives.

Since creation, man has attempted to build evermore complex and accurate devices to measure time, and along the way the wristwatch has taken its place to aid people in this task.

I own two timepieces with automatic movements — one Swiss, one German. An automatic movement is an engineering triumph. Long before the days of perfectly clean, dust-free, hypostatic rooms used to assemble hard drives and computer components, Swiss 14802782693_f8c050d7c6_owatchmakers were sitting at their work tables with a view of the Alps, with their jeweler’s loupes trained upon the minute details of their labor, undertaking the painstaking work of crafting marvels wrought by the minds of men.

A nice watch is a piece of art and a valuable tool, befitting the importance of time in our life. Artisans make timepieces. By hand. Using movements and materials designed over generations of development and care. Many such timepieces are tiny artworks. And they borrow their heritage from clocks and moving calendars built on a much larger scale for church towers and civic edifices, scaling timekeeping from a public function to the personal level.

Timepieces are More than “Brand” or “Cost”

Some people reduce a watch to either (a) the brand emblazoned on the face or the logo impressed upon the clasp or (b) a thing that tells the time. In either case, it’s about the brand or the cost to these folks, and not necessarily the tiny mechanical perfection within, beating out seconds and minutes with tremendous accuracy.

14596314687_f25eb21f0f_oThat’s why, even for Swiss makers such as TAG Hauer, Omega, etc., there are branded models (not much cheaper) that offer quartz movements. “Just as accurate” or “Nobody looks inside” are the pro arguments.

But nothing could be more absurd, except perhaps purchasing a Ferrari with a Toyota engine under the hood. “It still gets you where you want to go,” idiots will proclaim, even though such an automobile ceases to be the real thing, while the true enthusiasts will conclude that without a Ferrari engine, it’s just a car with a fancy shell. 

Apple should understand this. Ever since Steve Jobs’ obsession with messy solder on the motherboard of the Apple II, the company has had a focus on engineering well-crafted products, not just assembling parts together to make a whole. Its attention to detail (albeit on a mass-production, factory-oriented scale) has always been a hallmark in the consumer electronics industry. Their things are well-made, and last longer than industry averages.

The Apple Watch 

It’s somewhat ironic that the company associated with the fruit in the Garden of Eden has reached back to creation itself in developing its next product. But just as Eve was deceived in eating of the fruit, we would do well to observe the cautions of the Apple Watch set for release in April. I believe that Apple has taken too big a bite, and its Watch will not succeed at market, at least at this stage of development.

The first big reason is pricing. There’s currently an article on MacRumors that tries to offer some analysis on pricing, which has not yet been confirmed by Apple; to date, the only official statement indicates that “base models” will “start” at $349. And it’s unclear whether you can get an Apple Watch AND band at that price. It’s possible that you have to spend at least $400 or more to get the thing on your wrist.

14784874525_316c790e22_oThere are three “lines” of the first generation of the Apple Watch, and a range of wristbands made from different materials. Note that the “guts” of the watch do not appear to differ according to which model is chosen; only the external materials used in manufacture will vary. The “base model” will feature an aluminum housing while the fanciest model will be available in 18K gold, among other finishes. Sapphire crystals will appear on at least the mid and high end models.

According to the article on pricing linked above, the price of the gold/most expensive model of the Apple Watch could easily top $5,000, even $10,000.

In light of pricing, the second big reason the Apple Watch will not be a success is the failure to deliver an heirloom product. All watches keep time. The reason that you buy a $5,000 watch rather than a $50 watch is not purely because the $5,000 watch keeps better time, but because it is made with the type of care and materials that make it worth keeping for years and years, or forever.

But an Apple Watch, even one made using the same high-quality materials as a gold Rolex, will never be an heirloom.

It will never be an heirloom or have the same appeal as a traditional timepiece because:

(a) It is inevitable that regardless of whether the device succeeds on the market, there will be second, third and fourth generation products offering upgraded features, better chipsets, more memory, more communications ability, better sensors, and longer battery life. If you went out and bought an original iPhone in 18K gold, only to see the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4s, come out every year or so thereafter, how stupid would you feel? Who wants to bet that there will be no way to upgrade the original Apple Watch?

(b) an Apple Watch will likely need to be recharged at least every day (just like your phone), and will contain a battery with a finite number of charge cycles. There has been no indication from Apple whether battery replacements will even be offered. Even if a replacement is offered, it will be vastly more costly than a watch battery from the drug store. Once the battery dies after an hour on your wrist, your heirloom is a big hunk of crap unless you buy a new (expensive) battery. At some point ten or fifteen years down the line, you won’t be able to find the battery anymore.

(c) an Apple Watch requires that you own an iPhone (and keep it in proximity to the watch) in order for it to function. Will the original Apple Watch work with your iPhone 11 (five years from now)? Or will you have to carry your 7s for time immemorial?

(d) Even a mid-priced Swiss timepiece is almost always extremely resistant to the elements. For example, Omega makes divers, submariners, and has even supplied wristwatches for astronauts to wear in space, after rigorously testing their watches in trials of extreme temperature, altitude, and pressure. Even if the Apple Watch is “water resistant”, you can bet that taking it to 3 atmospheres will void the warranty, and brick your wrist.

In contrast, a good Swiss timepiece with an automatic movement requires no batteries, and if you wear it every day, never needs winding. Assuming you “tune it up” by getting it serviced every few years (or i.e., when it isn’t keeping accurate time as well), it will last forever. As one Swiss watchmaker proudly proclaims, you don’t actually own such a timepiece; you merely take care of it for the next generation.

If you find yourself playing the role of Tom Hanks in Castaway, assuming your automatic timepiece survives the plane crash and makes it to shore with you, you’ll continue to know the time and day until you get rescued. In contrast, if you were wearing the Apple Watch, you’ll know for about 36 hours, if the watch survived at all, but after that it’ll be as communicative (and expressive) as Wilson.

There will be plenty of first adopters. Just don’t be one of them.

Three-Parent Babies: “light at the end of a very dark tunnel”??!

The United Kingdom’s House of Commons has voted — 382 Members of Parliament “in favour” and 128 against — to introduce laws permitting “the creation of babies from three people.”

During the Commons debate, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told the House “…this is light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”

Speaking of “dark tunnels”, from Dante’s Inferno:


The Narrator’s guide explains:

“For we have reached the place of which I spoke,
where you will see the miserable people,
those who have lost the good of the intellect.”

Christ have mercy.
IMG_1319(source: Wikimedia Commons; author: Robin & Bazylek)

Do you have an Apple ID?

If you have an iPhone, iPad, or Apple computer, you likely have an Apple ID. If so, this seems important. If you are using “Two-Step Verification” (a security feature offered by Apple to prevent unauthorized access to your ID / devices), apparently it is possible to get locked out entirely, unless you make a note of your “recovery key”.

How Many “Bio-Ethicists” Does it Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?

Probably just one. But wouldn’t it be fun to see what would happen if there were two? And if two is fun, maybe three would be even funner. And heck, if our goal is fun and adventure, can a fourth bioethicist contribute anything to installing that lightbulb? No idea. Maybe. Who knows? Let’s try it with four anyway just to see. That would be a blast. Sometimes it’s good to do things “just because”. Because since it’s possible, we should do it. That’s what ethics teaches us. Do what’s possible. Once you find any reason (excuse) for doing a stupid thing, then it becomes an ethical action. If you repeat this mantra, possibly while doing yoga, in the blooming lotus or stretching dog position, it will sounds very ethical indeed. Dooooo whatttttt’ssss posssssible. Bio-Ethics!

“Hello, Computer!”

Our little 20-month-old daughter, Lucy, already knows that if she gets her paws on mommy or daddy’s phone, she can hold down the button on the front and make it talk. She knows that if she talks to it, it will talk back to her.

One wonders if little Gutenberg, sitting at the feet of his father, received lectures on the cumbersome nature of immovable type in printing, and resolved to change things when he got a little older. It would be appropriate, because every generation has its own “in our day” stories.

But in the Information Age, technological development is an exponential growth curve, so that in future generations, comparisons will become nearly impossible; common reference points will be rendered irrelevant by obsolescence. Think of attempts to describe vacuum tubes, LPs or 8-track cassettes in contrast to today’s technology, squared or cubed to a higher order. 

When I wasn’t much older than daughter Lucy, I was fascinated by technology. A “nerd”, I watched reruns of the original Star Trek series after school, and absolutely loved the idea of an “intelligent” computer that could receive input in the form of voice commands and respond in kind, as portrayed in science fiction — as opposed to then’s “cutting edge”: monochromatic green glowing tubes with their ASCII text set, floppy disks storing kilobytes, and single-tone beeps.

Science fiction is suddenly just science. And we get to be here for the ride.

Within just two or three generations, the wonders wrought by the minds of humans have taken members of our species into space and onto other celestial bodies. These revolutionary steps began in our own time, in the infancy of computers. There were machines that cost millions of dollars and filled entire rooms, but provided computing power that is now dwarfed by a basic smartphone.

That’s right. Your phone is more powerful than the computers used for the Apollo missions. Just sit and ponder that for a minute! Your PHONE!

Children born today — from their very earliest memory — will expect computers to talk, and listen. It won’t be long before we will be fooled into believing that we are interacting with actual humans when it is an artificially-created computer intelligence that responds. We already have — a la Skynet and courtesy of Google — self-programming computers.

In 1986, Montgomery Scott — who traveled back in time from 2286, alighted from a cloaked Klingon ship parked in Golden Gate Park. He visited an engineer and encountered a personal computer in the engineer’s office.

The computer — an Apple Macintosh — was one of the most “advanced” PC of the time, because it was equipped with a mouse. I remember those machines; our school received a grant for a Mac computer lab, and they were so cool compared the boring Tandy TRS-80 that my parents owned, and my Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. If you recall, most IBM personal computers still relied upon the text-based MS-DOS, when the mouse (and graphics) was still something of a novelty. Personal computers were only in less than 10% of homes then, in part because they not affordable and couldn’t do very much.

IMG_0241Mr. Scott was handed the computer’s mouse, which he used like a microphone, saying: “Hello, Computer!” Confusion swept across his face at receiving no response. Were he addressing the Enterprise computer, the dulcet tones of Gene Roddenberry’s wife would personalize the shipboard intelligence. When it was suggested that Mr. Scott “Just use the keyboard,” he replied, “How quaint,” before he cracked his knuckles and got to work inputing the formula for transparent aluminum, and potentially altering his own future.

How quaint indeed! The anachronism is already here, 270 years early.