A fascinating NASA presentation suggests that in July 2012 Earth was one week away from being struck by a massive solar storm that would have had devastating effects.
NASA’s own Science News describes this event as being “perilous.” Indeed, as perilous as “an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century.”
There are plenty of people here on Earth who are already machinating to send us back to the 18th century. Clearly, there’s something alluring about olden times.
In this case, however, it’s the coronal mass ejection that’s captivating minds. This solar storm “tore through Earth orbit in 2012,” says Science News. “Fortunately Earth wasn’t there.”
I just got back from three days in the woods, with no gadgets, no electricity, no nothin’. It’s fun to get away from all the glowing screens we spend so much of our modern lives staring into, but it’s also a lot of work. I had myself, my two boys, and my young niece to take care of, which meant that by the time I’d finished cleaning up from breakfast, it was nearly time to start on lunch. The afternoons were wet, the nights were cold. At the end of the day I was too tired to even bother with the Kindle I’d brought along. Last night before bed I liberated one of Melissa’s prescription-strength Ibuprofens, just to make sure my woodland collection of aches and pains wouldn’t keep me up. There were extra batteries for a couple of LED lanterns and various flashlights — but if those wore out, then what? Well, civilization was about 45 minutes away by way of an occasionally questionable gravel road.
And if something turned off the lights in town, too?
“Getting away from it all” presumes having something to get away from — and something to get back to, too.
I’ll take modern life, thanks.
For decades Japan has been the world’s playground for design innovation. But now it may become ground zero for the future of something far more hostile: military drones.
The country has positioned itself as one of the unlikely players in the escalating global race for military drones, a move that’s controversial both at home and abroad.
Controversial? Sure, given Japan’s history and Article 9 of its constitution. Unlikely? Not really. Drones play on Japan’s strengths in aerospace and miniaturization, while sidestepping her major manpower weakness. I once had a daydream of a future Japan, barely populated by septuagenarians and up, protected by fully automated swarms of lightning fast and extremely deadly robots and missiles. Think of a retirement home in a dangerous neighborhood, defended by The Matrix.
Isn’t that the way Japan is already going?
Some stories are so weird you just can’t make them up. Take, for instance, the saga of a pine tree planted in honor or late Beatles member George Harrison near the famed Griffith Observatory in 2004.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the tree died as a result of an insect infestation. The culprit? Bark beetles and ladybug beetles that infested the tree, which had grown to more than 10 feet tall as of last year.
The tree was quietly planted a decade ago following Harrison’s death in 2001 as a tribute to the guitarist/singer spending his final days in Los Angeles and Harrison’s love of gardening.
I had no idea he loved to garden — or what else to do with this strange little story.
Big honor for Billy Joel, set to become only the sixth recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Details:
“Billy Joel is a storyteller of the highest order,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billlington said in a statement.
“There is an intimacy to his song writing that bridges the gap between the listener and the worlds he shares through music.”
Joel, whose career has spanned 50 years, is one of the most popular recording artists and has had 33 top-40 hits. His multiple Grammy wins include song and album of the year in 1978 for “Just the Way You Are.”
I’m an unabashed fan of Joel’s, the overplayed (and overwritten) “Piano Man” aside. The five slick studio albums — and one intriguing concert album — he put out between 1977 and 1983 showed that video had not yet killed the radio star.
After ’83 things were… not so good.
An Innocent Man was an instant classic. But we had to wait two long years until ’85 for the inevitable Greatest Hits collection, and its pair of underwhelming new singles tacked on at the end like an embarrassing afterthought. He still generated a couple hits from 1986′s The Bridge, which was so godawful he fired longtime producer Phil Ramone, then teamed up with Foreigner’s Mick Jones for Storm Front in 1989 with mixed results. His last album of new popular music, River of Dreams, was released 21 years ago. I gave it a full listen for the first time in years, and while it’s far from his best material, it’s aged better than the previous two albums. Sadly, it’s been a long time since I even gave up waiting for a new album.
His pre-Stranger albums were all fine, but definitely the work of a talented singer-songwriter who was still finding his voice.
But the middle period from 1977 to 1983… wow.
Microsoft announced its biggest layoffs ever, and the underlying message is that buying Nokia was a mistake. Workers at the formerly-independent phonemaker will take the brunt of the cuts.
Google tried to buy its way into relevance as a smartphone maker by buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. They sold it off barely more than two years later for less than $3 billion. Late last year Microsoft bought Nokia’s handset division for $7.2 billion, and that has already turned out not to be worth much more than the prices of several thousand pink slips and severance packages.
These troubles are nothing unique to Google or to Microsoft — mergers & acquisitions are hard, and rarely work out as planned. And that’s if they work out at all. Ford and GM went on a buying spree of foreign automakers (SAAB, Jaguar, Aston-Martin, etc) and proceeded very quickly to drive them all into the dirt. It’s very difficult for a company to buy its way into relevancy in new markets. Ford had about as much business building Jaguars as Google did building its own smartphones.
When buyouts do work, it tends to be when a much bigger company is the buyer of a much smaller company, to gain needed technology or desired expertise, and then impose its own corporate culture on the buy-ee. Marriages usually work best as a partnership of equals; buyouts usually work best when one company completely loses its identity.
It’s an expensive lesson, but business leaders never seem to tire of learning it.
Something like 98% of Fortune 500 companies were already considering or had already deployed (with the accent on “deployed”) iOS devices with their employees. But now IT might not grumble so much about having to do it:
Apple has announced a strategic partnership with IBM that will see the enterprise giant transfer over 150 of their enterprise and IT apps and tools to Apple platforms natively, and will also have IBM selling Apple iPhones and iPads to its business clients all over the world. In an interview with CNBC, Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Virginia Rometty both told the network that Apple and IBM are like “puzzle pieces” that fit perfectly together.
“We knew that we needed to have a partner that deeply understood each of the verticals,” Cook told CNBC. “That had scale, that had a lot of dirt under their fingernails so to speak from really understanding each of these verticals and we found a kindred spirit in IBM.”
Apple touts the access the partnership gives them to IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities, and talks about how the apps that it produces with IBM will be developed “from the ground up for iPhone and iPad.” These apps will supplement new cloud services aimed at iOS specifically, including security and analytics solutions, and device management tools for large-scale MDM deployments.
That’s big. How big? BlackBerry shares pretty much disintegrated in afterhours trading. IBM calls it “MobileFirst,” which should give you some indication of where Android ranks in their plans. Or as Larry Dignan reports:
The biggest challenge for team Android is that Google and Samsung, two partners with enterprise ambitions, will have to herd cats to reach corporations. Android will need channel, integration and services support and there are few players that can match IBM’s reach.
The irony is workstation-class. In 1981, Apple gently teased IBM [See print ad above] for being late to the personal computer revolution, when they introduced the IBM PC four years after the Apple II debuted. Behind the scenes Steve Jobs was deeply worried, and thought the Macintosh, then under top secret development, was the Rebel Alliance’s only hope for saving the galaxy from IBM — he could be a little dramatic sometimes. When the Mac debuted, it was to Ridley Scott’s famous “1984” Super Bowl ad, in which Big Blue was Big Brother.
Could this deal have happened under Jobs, or was Tim Cook a necessary ingredient? I don’t know; both companies are very different, and in very different positions, than they were 33 years ago. But in the Apple vs Android wars this is a typical Apple-like move. Instead of going against Android’s strengths by trying to sell cheaper iPhones and iPad, Apple is increasing the utility of their existing, premium devices with a strategic partnership.
Android won’t be going away, simply because it enjoys too much utility as a perfectly serviceable OS for OEMs who don’t want to (or can’t) spend much money on little things like the user experience. But Apple just got a huge leg up with the corporate buyers who place orders for thousands of devices at once.
I don’t know if there’s anything like this yet in Colorado, but California has a booming business in medical marijuana home delivery:
Needing to replenish his stash of pot one recent afternoon, the Burbank resident dialed Speed Weed. Within the hour, a driver arrived with a white paper bag carrying a gram of cannabis, 10 joints and a handful of pot-infused candies and cookies.
“They come to my house, and they’re in and out,” said Reichle, 39, a comedian who spends about $100 a week on medical marijuana. “I shouldn’t have to go to a store.”
I say this as a guy who isn’t about to pare down his martini habit, but doesn’t $100 a week sound a bit excessive? I remember what the stuff used to cost a quarter century ago and how long each purchase would last, and inflation doesn’t come anywhere near to covering the difference. I don’t see how anyone can ingest that much THC and still stand up off the sofa to go to the bathroom, much less do comedy.
That aside, the story opens by claiming that Reichle “couldn’t have gotten a pepperoni pizza much faster.” And I bet right now he’s thinking, “Mmm, pizza.”
image via shutterstock / Juan Camilo Bernal
They’re coming to Minnesota, natch:
Self-serve beer stations are up and running in Target Field, so Minnesota Twins fans and those who attend the Major League Baseball All-Star festivities next week can decide what they want and even how much they want of it.
The machines, called DraftServ, are a partnership between concessionaire Delaware North and Anheuser-Busch.
My first (and only) experience with beer vending machines was as a 15-year-old on a monthlong summer tour of West Germany, where I and a gang of fellow 15-year-old boys spotted one in a train station in Köln. Dropped a 1DM coin in the slot, pushed a button, and out popped a can of staggeringly bad beer — and that was by the standards of a (relatively) inexperienced drinker.
Let’s hope Twins fans get a better selection.
With Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella battling to shoehorn Windows into more and more devices, the OS behemoth is forecast to swell by – er – half a percentage point from close of last year to the end of next.
Folks at Gartner told us Windows accounted for 13.96 per cent of the 2.33 billion devices shipped globally in 2013, and that they expect a dip this year to 13.7 per cent of the 2.43 billion units that will find a home. The analyst house added that the operating system is projected to climb to 14.4 per cent of the 2.59 billion PCs, smartphones, tabs and Ultrabooks estimated to be flogged in 2015.
“Microsoft is still trying to transition beyond PCs into ultra mobile and phones,” said research director Ranjit Atwal. “They are not making inroads, the volumes are still pretty small relative to the overall market.”
There’s a fake “Star Wars VII location footage” video up on YouTube, which Jim Dalrymple praised as “really well done,” but I just can’t agree. It’s nothing more than Imperial ships and walkers flying and walking around the Frankfurt airport for a couple minutes. Once you get past the fact that amateur filmmakers can do digital animation like the pros, the thrill is gone. And we got past that fact years ago.
For a real treat, click on the video I posted above. It’s a Cops parody called “Troops,” set on Tatooine on the day Luke and C-3PO went looking for runaway R2-D2. There are just enough special effects to keep it grounded in the Star Wars universe — the joy is in the clever writing and the spot-on performances. Even more impressive, Kevin Rubio did all this with much more primitive computer equipment, way back in 1997. It’s only ten minutes long, but I remember waiting ages for each little clip to download from TheForce.net over a dialup connection. And it was worth the wait, too.
I bring this up for a couple reasons. The first is that I was just talking about this same issue — Hollywood’s reliance on special effects over quality storytelling — in a post from just a few weeks ago. But the second and more important reason is last week I got to see a rare instance in which a dazzling special effects sequence was used to delightful storytelling effect.
Your next car might have dimples:
Golf balls are dimpled for a reason — they sail through the air just slowly enough that the uneven surface reduces drag, helping them fly farther than they might otherwise. Wouldn’t it be nice if your car could get that kind of aerodynamic boost? It might, if MIT’s newly developed morphable surface becomes a practical reality. The technology creates dimples on the fly by sucking the air out of a hollow ball with both a stiff, rubber-like skin on top and a soft material just below. The result is odd-looking to say the least, but it’s effective. It can wrinkle itself to cut down on air resistance when it’s traveling slowly, yet smooth itself out to minimize drag at high speed.
Vehicles would be the most likely to benefit from the concept, and researchers already foresee transportation whose panels dimple to improve your mileage.
Aesthetically I have to wonder if consumers would go for it. Would you trade that perfectly-reflective wax job for an extra MPG or two?
As the only coffee drinker here at Casa Verde, my Keurig K75 has been a godsend. I used to buy nothing but Starbucks’ Komodo blend, which I still love — but the consistency wasn’t there. The first cup was great, the second cup so-so, the third cup pretty much dead-cold. Making things worse, a one-pound bag would go stale before I could finish half of it. So I was getting one great cup of coffee a day, for maybe two weeks out of the month. The other cups… not so good.
Even the best K-Cups probably aren’t on par with your grind-it-right-before-brewing bean of choice. But my second K-Cup mug is better than my second drip mug, and the third one K-Cup is far superior. And now most afternoons I have a fourth cup, because why the heck not — it hasn’t been sitting there all day and there’s no extra mess to clean up.
And honestly, after a year I might actually prefer Barista Prima’s Italian roast K-Cup to most any other coffee I’ve ever had. It’s a real ass-kicker first thing in the morning. So, be choosey and you can do all right drinking Keurig.
The problem is that Keurig is trying to take away some of your choices by adding what amounts to DRM to future brewers:
At a Keurig tasting event in New York last week, an employee showed me how it worked. Or, rather, he showed me that it worked. Keurig isn’t saying much about the mechanism itself, presumably in the hopes of obscuring it from aspiring coffee pirates.
When the Keurig employee tried to use an old-model pod, one without a new ink marker on the foil top, the brewer wouldn’t run. “Oops!” read a message on the touchscreen display, explaining that the machine only works with specially designed pods and directing the user to a Keurig website and helpline. The employee wouldn’t elaborate on how it worked, except to say that the ink is proprietary and inspired by counterfeiting technology used by the US Mint. Ian Tinkler, Keurig’s vice president of brewer engineering, went into a bit more detail, explaining that an infrared light shines on the ink marking and registers the wavelength of the light reflected back.
My second-favorite K-Cup is Marley Coffee’s “One Love,” which isn’t blessed with the Keurig label because they use their own (better) filter system. Presumably Marley would have to start ponying up and towing the line to work in the new brewers.
I’m sure Keurig’s secret Masonic coffee handshake will be reversed-engineered or cracked within days or, at the most, within weeks, and I could go back to my Marley on the weekends. And I understand a company wanting to protect its business model. But I’d rather they charged more for their brewers (and engineered sturdier brewers) than to pull this kind of pointless malarkey.
The whole affair just looks tired and sad, which is the exact opposite of what a good cup of coffee is supposed to achieve.
It’s big. Really big. CrackBerry got their hands on a preview copy, and it weighs almost twice as much as an iPhone 5S. The reviewer, who seems to love it, says ” it fits in your pocket… it fits and it’s snug.” This reminds me of when Ford bragged about the “road-hugging weight” of the Pinto, because that was the best thing they could think to say about their new pony car. The camera is nice, but takes three whole seconds to take a single HDR picture. My son’s hand-me-down iPhone 4S from 2011 does it in about one second, and my 2013-vintage 5S takes them nearly-instantaneously. The keyboard is excellent, and the predictive typing might just be the best in the business, but it’s impossible — even for CB’s large-handed review — to type with one hand. His thumb couldn’t even reach the entire screen.
Did I mention it weighs just shy of seven ounces? A full-size, 10-inch iPad Air only weighs 16 ounces; an iPad Mini just 11.
There’s probably a niche left for this monster, but it certainly isn’t going to win back any Android or iPhone users.
Who wears Android Wear? Not Steve Kovach:
I used one of the new Android Wear smartwatches, Samsung’s Gear Live, for several hours Thursday, and my wrist hasn’t stopped buzzing since I synced the device with my phone.
New email? Buzz. New text? Buzz. The thing won’t shut up. I’m one of those guys who obsessively checks his phone, but this is too much for me. Plus Android Wear ties in with Google’s digital assistant service Google Now, which attempts to help you out by notifying you about stuff it thinks you want to know about like upcoming flights or package deliveries.
So there are even more things to look at.
This isn’t the answer. Instead of solving the problem of whipping my phone out several times a day, Android Wear makes me nervous and anxious from all this hyper-connectivity. If I’m to ever go all in on a smartwatch it needs to be simpler than this.
The problem is that Gear Live is too simple — that is, nobody at Samsung put any effort into what a smartwatch should actually do, and what it shouldn’t. So instead of being a smart watch, it chirps at you with absolutely every little detail, like when my older son is showing off his latest LEGO scorpion creation.
That’s cute in an eight-year-old kid; less so in something you wear on your wrist during, say, a business meeting. Or when driving your car.
A smartwatch should be simpler, yes — but creating simplicity requires sweating out every detail and a lot of hard design choices by the manufacturer. So when Kovach says that the copycats at Samsung did neither of those things in their rush to bring a craptaculent product to market, I’m not at all surprised.
Supposedly Apple will introduce an iWatch this fall. Maybe once Samsung has somebody to crib off of, they’ll do a better job.
When Lena Dunham can mock you effectively, you’ve hit rock bottom.
Time to sober up, bud.
-Your Friendly Neighborhood VodkaPundit
thumbnail photo via shutterstock / PAN Photo Agency
Apple announced a new “budget” iMac last week, starting at $1099 for an Intel i5 machine with Apple’s gorgeous 21.5″ IPS display. But there’s a catch:
As you can read in our full benchmark report, there is now a wide performance gap between the low-end iMac and the next step up the product line. The new $1099 iMac was slower across the board, and 54 percent slower overall, than the $1299 21.5-inch system. One thing to note: We weren’t crazy about the $1299 model when it shipped. It offered just modest speed improvements over the October 2012 system and most of that was due to the $1299 iMac’s use of Iris Pro graphics—which are not included in the new $1099 system.
Back when I was buying bleeding-edge Windows machines from various vendors, the sweet spot on the price/performance curve was to buy Intel’s second-fastest CPU and match it with the second-fastest GPU from whoever was the hot name at the time. I always aimed above the sweet spot, which is how I ended up with a 200mhz Pentium Pro with a Number Nine video card (remember them?), which at the time was the absolute fastest all-SCSI beast you could buy.
Within months, Intel debuted MMX multimedia instructions on their regular Pentium chips, and GFX put Number Nine on the curb with affordable 3D graphics. Sometimes, top-end buyers get burned.
But bottom-end buyers always get burned, if they’re looking for any kind of performance. For about 17% more money, you can buy yourself more than 50% more performance. Maybe you don’t need a screaming gaming rig, but even just a little future-proofing can go a long way.
Gizmodo says “this is big” and they ain’t kidding:
A computer has successfully managed to fool a bunch of researchers into thinking that it was a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman. In doing so, it has become the first computer in the world to have successfully passed the Turing Test.
The test is named after computer pioneer Alan Turing. To pass it, a computer needs to dupe 30 per cent of human judges in five minute text-based chats, a feat that until now had never been accomplished.
“Eugene” was created by a team based in Russia, and passed the test organised by the University of Reading just barely, by duping 33 per cent of the judges. It should also be noted that successfully pretending to be a 13-year-old boy for whom English is a second language ain’t exactly Hal 9000.
It’s still an obviously exciting breakthrough, though, one that has critics already raising red flags about its implications. “Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cyber crime,” said Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading and deputy vice-chancellor for research at Coventry University told the Independent.
Aren’t we supposed to be just a decade away, give or take, from the Singularity?
The Wall Street Journal’s Apple reporting is generally so bad that I rarely bother reading their stories. The widely and thoroughly discredited book, Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs, was written by WSJ’s own Yukari Iwatani Kane, which was really the pinnacle of the kind of story WSJ routinely published about the company. So it was a bit of a shock over the weekend when just about every tech blog I read linked to this story comparing Steve Jobs with brand-new Apple employee Dr. Dre.
But there’s good stuff in there, including this:
Behind the scenes, Dr. Dre—whose real name is Andre Young —has quietly played an equally powerful role developing and protecting the Beats brand, eschewing market research for gut instinct at every turn. Though his main obsession is perfecting the sound of the company’s signature high-end headphones, the 49-year-old fitness-obsessed music producer weighs in decisively on everything from TV ads and font styles to the wordiness of descriptions on the Beats Music streaming service.
As one colleague says, Dr. Dre serves as Beats’ “cultural barometer” of what is cool.
But Dr. Dre’s process is mysterious, colleagues say: His assessments are usually immediate, personal and articulated sparely. He often dismisses ideas such as posing for clichéd photos in a recording studio as too “corny” or “cheesy.” Or he’ll wave them off with a terse “I’m not feeling that.”
The Beats acquisition is starting to make more and more sense.
It might still prove to be misguided or unprofitable, but I’m finally “feeling” what Tim Cook must have been when he decided to plunk down $3 billion for the company.
But then there’s another bit slightly further down:
Dr. Dre’s perfectionist impulse, coupled with his disregard for artificial deadlines, have meant that “he doesn’t put out a lot of material,” despite being a workaholic, said Paul Rosenberg, a lawyer and manager of one of Dr. Dre’s protégés, rapper Eminem.
That could portend friction at his new employer, Apple, which agreed to buy Beats for $3 billion last month. [Emphasis added]
Putting in tons of work on very few highly profitable products? Why, Dre sounds nothing at all like Apple, whose entire product line could fit comfortably on your kitchen table.
Isn’t there one damn reporter at that paper who understands Apple?
If you like Lego or if you like Star Wars — or if you’re like me and turn eight years old again when you put the two together — then click over to Wired right now for the whole story of this incredible build.
(Big thanks to Christopher Joshua Arndt on Facebook for the heads up!)
While users will still look to Google when searching in their web browser, the role of search in the modern operating system is more than the browser. It can be evoked in almost any application, and global search is generally a key-press or a touch gesture away.
For Apple this means Spotlight. In the new versions of their operating systems, Google results will be removed from Spotlight and replaced with Microsoft’s Bing. Of course Apple is going to offer searches through iTunes, the App Store, Apple Maps, iBooks, and more, but the prize of web searches in Spotlight now goes to Redmond.
One of the features of OS X Yosemite due out this fall is how much Spotlight has been moved front and center — literally — and how much more power it’s been given. I’ll likely be opening up far fewer search tabs in Safari, and I suspect that’s exactly the point.
A graphic edition of the Amity Shlaes instant classic, The Forgotten Man, and it’s only 12 bucks? No brainer. I’ll have my boys reading it by age 10 or 12 — at the latest.
BONUS: Ed Driscoll interviewed Amity about the new edition. Lots of good stuff, so click on over.
Amazon bringing free music streaming to Prime customers, but there is a catch:
The company will expand its Prime membership offerings by adding a stockpile of old and newish music for subscribers to stream on demand. The Prime music service, which is scheduled to launch this June or July, will not include recent releases but instead restrict its catalog to songs and albums that are 6 months old and older, five music industry sources familiar with the company’s plans confirmed to BuzzFeed.
Fogies like myself are Amazon’s most-likely Prime customers, and also the customers least interested in the latest music — so the catch is far from a deal-breaker. But when you consider that Prime customers already pony up $99 a year (up from $79), Amazon’s new service makes it harder to justify the $500 million Apple paid for Beats Music as part of the Beats acquisition.
image via shutterstock / Alexander Raths
Here’s the first result of that recent EU court decision on search engines:
Google is starting to accept requests from Europeans who want to erase unflattering information from the results produced by the world’s dominant search engine.
The demands can be submitted on a Web page that Google opened late Thursday in response to a landmark ruling issued two weeks ago by Europe’s highest court.
The decision gives Europeans the means to polish their online reputations by petitioning Google and other search engines to remove potentially damaging links to newspaper articles and other websites with embarrassing information about their past activities.
I’m not being facetious when I ask, “What’s a search engine for?” Embarrassing or not, we expect to get our search results, all the search results, and nothing but the search results. We don’t expect Google to deliver instead what amounts to hagiography of some politician best known for graft or having his pants around his ankles.
Government should have no authority over the web.
But that wouldn’t suit our betters now, would it?
image via shutterstock / Lightspring