Seattle Ferris Wheel and Cranes

Seattle Ferris Wheel and Cranes

I went to Micro Center on Sunday. Women, don’t ever let you man go to Micro Center unescorted. Micro Center is a warehouse sized consumer electronics store with a twist. The twist is that the help all works on commission. Like I said, don’t let him go there alone. I went there with the intension of just buying two wireless mice. Our desktop’s mouse had lost its thumb wheel and the laptop’s was totally kaput. I have been buying ‘cheap cheap’ $8 mice, but they just don’t last. This time I selected two $30 Microsoft mice. So, I got out of there for $60, right? Wrong! Ladies, I was not kidding around.

Before I left home, I had been doing some file backups. My backup drive ended up being 98% full, while my main hard-drive only had a few percent more left. Back in December hard drives were exorbitantly expensive, something about typhoons in Thailand. Trust me on this, I leaned it at Micro Center. This time around, they were not so pricy. I bought a two terra-byte drive and escaped for under $200. What did I say about men and Micro Center?

Mister Ferris’s first wheel appeared at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was subsequently moved to the north side of Chicago, before it reappeared at the 1904 Worlds Fair in Saint Louis. At the end of that fair, it was dynamited on site. Its remains, in particular its ten-ton hub was buried somewhere in Forest Park.

Web Rashies

Lovers Point Surf

A rash guard or rashie is water wear used by surfers to protect themselves from skin rashes caused by abrasions that come from their surfboards. The board’s wax can hold sand from the beach that can chafe the body, as the surfer paddles out to catch the next wave. These shirts are usually made of spandex and nylon or polyester. Rashies also offer UV protection and defend against jellyfish stings.

For some reason Anne was online shopping for rash guards this morning. When I stuck my head into the computer room, on my way out the door, I saw the clothing webpage on the screen. I had to ask, “What are you buying now?” “A rash guard”, was her reply to my snarky question. “A what?” “A rash guard, it’s for surfing the web.” “What’s a rash guard?” “You don’t know? Well, I guess that I’m just hipper than you.” Not cool Anne.

I eventually figured it out, but why she was looking at rash guards in the first place is still a mystery to me. We live in Saint Louis, about as far from good surfing as you can get. So, unless she is planning on surfing down the Mississippi, I still don’t know why she would need one. That is unless you really do need a rashie to surf the web?

Subsequent research (i.e. more Internet surfing) unearthed an article by Jean Poly, who claims credit for coining the metaphor, surfing the web. It was in the early nineties and the nascent World Wide Web was an undiscovered country to most people. Poly was tasked to write a beginner’s guide to the Internet. Casting about for a hook for the article, something fun and a little bit tricky, seemed called for. To a beginner, the Internet appeared as a vast unexplored ocean. So, Poly searched for a metaphor that was “fishy, net-like [and] nautical”. Surfing the Internet was born.

Twenty years later, the web has grown up to become more than just a novelty. In fact, it has become a daily necessity. From bulletin boards and FTP sites, the Internet has evolved to include a myriad of day-to-day routines. Some that weren’t even fully envisioned back then, like online shopping. Along with the benefits of the web, there are also some downsides to it too, like spear phishing, just to keep the nautical theme going. So maybe shopping for some protective garb is warranted after all. There are sharks and barracudas out there on the World Wide Web, so be careful while surfing the Internet.

PS – Anne told me tonight that she ordered a rash guard to give her UV protection while on the beach, up at the cabin.

Windows onto the World

Curtains by Roy Lichtenstein

 Last night, a dark and stormy night, was punctuated with wave after wave of clashing thunderstorms. I lost count how many times I was awoken by the flash of lightning and the crash on thunder. Just about the time I had drifted off to sleep again, the next wave of crash-bangs would wake me up again. After one such iteration, I got up to get a drink of water. While drinking it down in the kitchen, a particularly close lightning strike lit up the room and an instant later shook that same world. Our frilly and banal kitchen curtains were backlit and the rest of the room was also briefly illuminated. I was reminded of the above Lichtenstein painting.

This relatively sleepless night left me feeling tired and grumpy in the morning. I don’t think that I can mount a full fledge rant here, I’m just too tired, but I can give you some grousing. I think that I am still up to that.

Once I was up this morning and sufficiently ‘awake’ to start my morning rituals, one of my first tasks was to visit my iPhone. I luv my iPhone. After checking email, this blog and Facebook, I began this morning’s downloads, these normally being podcasts and Apps updates. I hate those little numeric red dots that appear when there is something to do. I’m anal like that. This sleepy morning there was one special red circle, it was on the ‘Settings’ icon. It signified my iPhone’s desire to upgrade to iOS 6.

Normally, this desire would not cause consternation. Using iTunes, I’ve done it plenty of times in the past. At this point under the rubric of full disclosure I should tell you that I’m a PC and not a Mac. I’ve been a PC even before there were PCs. I’ve been programing computers for over forty years. Before you dismiss me for a vacuum tube Neanderthal, hear me out. My values were formulated while working for over a decade for a computer manufacturer. They are democratic values. Simply put, PC values are {democratic | free enterprise | American} values. While, Apple’s values are {monopolistic | autocratic | totalitarian} values.

So, I can mount a rant. My complaint is that this iOS ‘upgrade’ will erase Google Maps from my iPhone. It will be replaced by Apple’s ersatz replacement App. This is all part of these two big boys intramural fight. In the words of that street sage, Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?” Oh snap, yes we can! There might be an Android in my future.

The graphic for this post is a picture of the Roy Lichtenstein painting, “Curtains”. It was a gift to the Saint Louis Art Museum from Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. It was painted in 1962, using oil and magna on canvas. The following text is the Slammer’s write-up on this art work.

In his black and white paintings of the early 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein drew from popular, mass-produced imagery. Here, the source was a newspaper advertisement. The frilly kitchen curtains with matching valance suggest the banal, suburban developments of post-war America. While the image implies a critique of consumerism, it also presents a visual pun on the classical notion of painting as a window onto the world.

The slammer, also-know-as the Saint Louis Art Museum has its motto engraved upon its lintel, ‘Dedicated to Art and Free to All’. One is free to walk in to it and one is free to take pictures in it. The new wing opens next year, it’ll be grand.

I Was Five

1959 Cadillac

We use to have a neighbor that parked a vintage Ford Mustang up the street. It had the vanity plate, “I WAS 5”. That model began production at and about ’65. The above picture is from the Easter car show. I was five when this Caddy was built. Last Easter was a crystal-brilliant Sunday afternoon. That weather, shiny metal and chrome has made for some excellent photos, if I do say so myself.

Cadillac recently announced it was working on a system it calls super cruise that would be capable of steering, braking and lane-centering while highway driving without human intervention. It is hoped that such an autonomous driving systems could be available by mid-decade. Super cruise would rely on existing sensor technologies that let today’s cars know what is going on around them, such as cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and GPS navigation. It would be the next great leap forward from today’s adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning-equipped cars.

In addition to GM, about a half-a-dozen other car makers are also investing in this technology. Google has been attracting a lot of press for its work on autonomous self-driving cars. But I haven’t noticed any Google Motors dealers near me yet. I don’t see Google bringing this technology to market, unless it purchases a car company. This is how it got in to the phone business. It bought the phone manufacturer, Motorola. More than likely though, it will be a car company the sells this technology to me first. Toyota offers the adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning on the Prius, but it was not available when I bought my car last year.

So, some day in the not too distant future, you slide in, behind the wheel of your first autonomous driving system equipped vehicle. How is this going to work? If it is the GM super cruise system, then you’ll have to wait until you are on the highway first. Assume that it is like normal cruise control, you turn it on and it holds your speed. It would also hold your lane. This would free your hands so that you could enter your destination into the GPS navigation system. Fast forwarding to the next generation of this system, the car would drive itself until you reached your exit. 

If everything worked correctly then you would be free to text, apply makeup, shave, read or do any of the number of things that drivers already do while behind the wheel, but shouldn’t. You would eventually be given proper notice upon approaching your chosen exit, the system would disengage and driving would revert to normal. This is the envisioned scenario. What would happen if things don’t go according to plan?

Say, another car swerves into your path, a deer jumps across the road or any number of unexpected events, what would happen? Would you even notice any sort of alert, over whatever absorptive activity that you might be engaged in? How would a last second alarm make you feel about a system that has driven you into a life threatening situation? This last question touches upon the more than simply engineering that comprise the kinds of issues that this system would wrestle with.

Back in 1959, the closest one could come to super cruise was the Brodie knob, also called a steering wheel spinner. This aftermarket knob would attach to the outer ring of the steering wheel and facilitated one-handed steering. This freed the other arm for hanging it out the window, smoking or holding your baby closer. All of which could be more chancy than any GM super cruise scheme.

Reply to All

Male Goldfinch

The following list is just a few of the hundreds of email messages that were waiting for me the other day at work. I’ve highlighted some of the more interesting ones. A little bird once told me that it is better to blog out your message rather than email spam everyone you know and then some.

  • Don’t know why this was sent to me?
  • Please STOP using reply to all
  • You have the wrong person.
  • Is this a phishing scam?
  • What is this?
  • Stop
  • Why am I getting these emails?
  • Make it stop….
  • Let’s stop the reply all, please.
  • Stop this Reply to all ASAP.
  • I have no idea what this is about.
  • Would you all please STOP! That is a huge nested distribution list!!!
  • And to everyone else…the REPLY button is the one to the left of the REPLY to ALL button and then the rest of us won’t have to delete 3000 emails.
  • 4.1 heading is rather suspect – kindly remove me from the list
  • All, there is no need to reply to all.
  • STOP doing a RESPOND ALL!! I have enough stuff in my inbox!!
  • A false conclusion once arrived at and widely accepted is not easily dislodged, and the less it is understood, the more tenaciously it is held
  • Not sure why I am on this list. I do not have a clue
  • Folks, let’s try using BCC next time.
  • Stop! Stop! Stop!
  • JANE STOP THIS CRAZY THING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Not meant for me either.
  • Stop replying to all you’re creating an email storm
  • I have no idea what this is either.
  • Ryan, You have the wrong distribution list. Wrong Taylor, wrong everyone.
  • I don’t have any idea what this is about…!!!
  • QUIT CC-ing ALLLLLL!!!
  • The “Reply All’ is a bit annoying – isn’t it?
  • Whoo Hoo RIDE THE WAVE
  • Something is really wrong here. I wonder if this is some SPAM. How could all of us be getting this by mistake
  • We should stop replying.
  • Does everyone have to reply to all like I’m doing?
  • Hey, I’m not part of this please quit sending me messages!!!!!!!
  • Please stop!
  • Everyone, please respond back only to Ryan…..
  • What’s another replay all?
  • Hi everyone just wanted to take this opportunity to tell thousands of people I hope they have a good day!
  • Who am I?
  • Obviously the email was sent out by mistake….inboxes are being flooded. THANK YOU!!!
  • This Distribution List contains several large nested Distribution Lists as members. Please refrain from replying to all as each message is sent to many, many users (probably hundreds).
  • By saying stop replying to all, you are indeed replying to all.
  • As usual Mr. Phelps this message will self-destruct in 15 seconds.
  • Please don’t stop. I love filled in-boxes. Who else saw the shuttle?
  • I think this is for someone else… I don’t know anything about this thing
  • Please take me off this distribution list
  • Please remove me from distribution on this message, thank you, Dave

Performance Priced

Dark Drama Iris

Many years ago, I worked for the second largest computer company in the world. The company was Control Data Corporation or CDC. For a brief time it was second only to IBM in the world of computers. It is gone now, consigned to the dust bin of history. Enough time has passed that even some successor firms have also passed-on. Digital comes to mind. Even garage upstart Microsoft is starting to look long in the tooth, compared to today’s modern titans of Silicon Valley. One of these garage bands for whom the blush is still on the rose is Apple. Under the tutelage of the late Steve Jobs, innovative products like the iPhone and the iPad have powered Apple to record profits. However, record profits or even innovative products are no life insurance policy in the breakneck world of computer technology. CDC had both of them then, but look at it now.

Back in the day, selling computers, or “pushing iron” as it was called, wasn’t a simple process. The machines were big, expensive and arcane. Salesmen, and they were mainly men, sold the computers one at a time. Half-a-dozen machines could count for a very good year. The number of options available, the complexity of the product, and the constant evolution of the industry led to a business model called performance pricing. Simply put, if machine A could perform the task twice as fast as machine B, then machine A was priced at twice that of B. This model worked well, so long as no one peeked behind the curtain.

Sometimes midlife performance upgrades were made. When no one was looking, a technician would flip a well hidden switch and then look busy for an hour or so. CDC made a lot of disk drives and we figured out how to convert cheaper 20 MB drives to more expensive 60 MB drives. [Yes, this was a while ago.] This was accomplished by low-level reformatting the drive. They were all the same hardware, they were just formatted differently. They were all performance priced. You got what you paid for.

I was thinking about a modern application for the kind of performance pricing of computer equipment. The iPhone comes to mind. Each model comes in several variants. The sole variation is the amount of internal storage that the device has. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to make just one kind? The trick of low-level formatting of hard-drives, to size the amount of storage, was an industry standard. At the time, we were making 2/3 of all the drives. Back then disk drive platters were all the same size; software formatting determined the amount of available memory. In the iPhone storage is solid state, but the old principles still apply. For example, extra sectors are made, to replace sectors that go bad. Firmware normally controls the allocation of this storage. Why not have the firmware also control the amount of storage available to the customer. If you’ve priced USB storage, you know that 8/16/32 GB doesn’t cost anywhere near the $100s that Apple charges for it. Why not just build one device and build the extra hardware cost into your pricing model and save on manufacturing costs? I realize that it says how much storage it has on the case, but you are already committed to two colors of skins. Another 3X is a modest bump in cost, for a lucrative opportunity for Apple to up-sell their most popular product.

These business practices might seem nefarious to some, but they are not. Streamlining production costs save all customers money. If you ever bothered to read your Apple license agreement, then you would realize that you have already concurred with this too. Like Control Data’s competitors, Apple’s are not fooled by any of these shenanigans. They are already scheming to take advantage of this or any opening, and maybe take Apple down too.