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Stephen Green

Stephen Green began blogging at VodkaPundit.com in early 2002, and has served as PJMedia's Denver editor since 2008. He's one of the hosts on PJTV, and one-third of PJTV's Trifecta team with Scott Ott and Bill Whittle. Steve lives with his wife and sons in the hills and woods of Monument, Colorado, where he enjoys the occasional lovely adult beverage.
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What Resolution iPhone 6 Displays?

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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Want to know the resolution of the new iPhones due to be announced next month? John Gruber did the math — all of the math — to come up with the best educated guess I’ve seen:

But after giving it much thought, and a lot of tinkering in a spreadsheet, here is what I think Apple is going to do:

4.7-inch display: 1334 × 750, 326 PPI @2x
5.5-inch display: 2208 × 1242, 461 PPI @3x

@2x means the same “double” retina resolution that we’ve seen on all iOS devices with retina displays to date, where each virtual point in the user interface is represented by two physical pixels on the display in each dimension, horizontal and vertical. @3x means a new “triple” retina resolution, where each user interface point is represented by three display pixels. A single @2x point is a 2 × 2 square of 4 pixels; an @3x point is a 3 × 3 square of 9 pixels.

I could be wrong on either or both of these conjectured new iPhones. I derived these figures on my own, and I’ll explain my thought process below.

It’s a fascinating and extremely detailed (Ha! Get it?) report, explaining the difference between pixels and points on an iOS screen, and how simply increasing the pixels wouldn’t necessarily lead to fitting more stuff onto a larger screen — at least not in a sensible way, and not at resolutions other than the ones he determined.

My only hope is that the rumors are wrong, and that Apple continues to produce at least one model with the same size screen as the iPhone 5 and 5S. For me it’s the perfect size for easily sliding in or out of a pants pocket, without making too much of a bulge. This trend towards bigger phones goes against everything that was once cool about electronics, where small & light should rule the day.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image illustration via shutterstock /  alphaspirit

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Meet Israel’s Doomsday Boats

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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Via Real Clear Defense:

Right now, three Dolphin II-class submarines are under construction at Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems shipyards in Kiel. Once the submarines complete their trials and head towards the Mediterranean, they will become the most powerful Israeli submarines ever.

More than 225 feet long, the diesel-electric Dolphin II class is part attack submarine, part nuclear strike ship and part commando taxi.

They’re also painted in an unusual combination of black, blue and green colors. That’s “meant to make the ship less visible, and thought to be especially effective in Mediterranean waters,” Defense News noted after recently publishing new photographs of the fat, oddly-shaped boats in dry dock and on sea trials.

The most serious part comes further down in the story:

Although not admitted by the Israeli government, the Dolphin II is widely believed to soon possess nuclear-tipped Popeye Turbo cruise missiles. The submarine’s armament includes non-nuclear anti-ship Harpoon and anti-helicopter Triton missiles.

That’s a lot of hurt for the bad guys packed into one boat — and Israel is buying three of them.

******

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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You’ll Never Guess What Tiny Creature They Found In Outer Space

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

ISS

Huh:

There are a lot of things in space, but terrestrial sea plankton was not one of them –at least, so we thought. Yet traces of the microorganisms were found on the windows of the International Space Station, as reported by Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency.

Experiments had previously shown that microorganisms such as bacteria are capable of surviving in space, and, further, propagating endospores — but sea plankton is certainly a new discovery, Vladimir Solovyev, chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission, told the news agency.

“The results of this experiment are absolutely unique,” he said. “We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator [window] surface. This should be studied further.”

Life, as Dr. Ian Malcolm says, finds a way.

*****
Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Practical Side of Star Wars

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 - by Stephen Green

PRACTICAL

Most encouraging Star Wars news I’ve read since George Lucas sold his franchise:

As if videos from the set of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars movie featuring live-action alien costumes and full-scale X-Wing Fighters haven’t been enough of a clue, Rian Johnson, who will pick up the franchise after Abrams, says Star Wars: Episode VII will feature more practical, traditional effects.

“They’re doing so much practical building for this one. It’s awesome,” Johnson said on the latest Girls in Hoodies podcast. “I think people are coming back around to [practical effects]. It feels like there is sort of that gravity pulling us back toward it. I think that more and more people are hitting kind of a critical mass in terms of the CG-driven action scene lending itself to a very specific type of action scene, where physics go out the window and it becomes so big so quick.”

This goes right back to a conversation we had in this space just last May:

Up until, and I guess including Jurassic Park, Hollywood could drop our jaws with only the special effects. Something really new might come along every once in a great while like the wire work from The Matrix, but once the computers took over we became jaded pretty quickly. We used to marvel at practical special effects, because some smart and talented people had to figure out a means to make something jaw-dropping happen, really happen, in front of a camera. Now the computer artists just draw it, if you’ll allow me to oversimplify the amazing work that they can do. But we’ll never again wonder, “How did they do that?”

Maybe Star Wars will bring back some of the wonder.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

thumbnail image via showatcher.com

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Does Facebook Need a Satire Tag?

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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News You Can Use:

Here’s how it works: If a friend posts an Onion link to his or her Facebook feed, click on it for a laugh. Once you’re done at The Onion and come back to your desktop or laptop browser, Facebook will have generated three related articles in a box directly below whatever you’d clicked on. In the case of an Onion link, that box will usually contain at least one article from the same site, only that article’s headline will begin with the word “satire” in brackets. As of press time, we were able to duplicate this result on three different computers from different accounts, one of which is shown above.

We can only assume this was implemented as a reaction to users believing that Onion links are nonfiction reports (you can lose hours flipping through Literally Unbelievable, a site that catalogs such boneheaded moments), but we’re not sure what compelled Facebook to go so far as to assert editorial control. Maybe the company still feels bad about how users reacted to its intentional News Feed manipulation from 2012.

We’ve probably all been suckered on occasion by a good satire. One of the best is Duffel Blog, which took me in for days the first time I came across one of their stories. But that’s the part of what makes great satire great.

There are three levels of satire. The first is simple sarcasm, which is saying something outrageous that you don’t believe, in such an obvious manner, that everybody knows you’re kidding. The next higher level of satire is to say something outrageous you don’t mean, in a serious enough manner, that people think you might actually believe it. But the highest level of satire, and the most difficult one to produce, is to say something outrageous, in such a clever way, that people nod their heads in agreement with the outrageous thing.

Discovering you’ve been taken in by great satire produces a momentary but unique emotion — equal parts embarrassment and delight, which even the Germans probably don’t have a word for. Facebook would take away that moment.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image illustration via shutterstock / Brent Hofacker

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‘The Team Knew It Had Electrodes In the Right Spot When the Musician’s Performance was Steady.’

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

violinist-brain-surgery

Whoa:

It’s common for brain surgery patients to stay awake. That’s how surgeons know everything is going smoothly, after all. When concert violinist Roger Frisch started suffering from tremors that are only a problem when he’s playing, however, Mayo Clinic doctors had to resort to some rather unusual technology to find out if they were installing the necessary brain pacemaker correctly. The surgical crew gave Frisch a bow equipped with a motion-tracking sensor and asked him to fiddle during the operation; the team knew it had electrodes in the right spot when the musician’s performance was steady.

I’m speechless.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Amazon Enters Retail — Again

Monday, August 18th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

amazonreader-inline1

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Similar to Amazon’s strategy in many of its businesses, the company aims to compete on price in the mobile payment arena. For customers who sign up for the service by Oct. 31, Amazon will take as its fee 1.75 percent of each payment processed, or each “swipe” of the card, a special rate that will last until Jan. 1, 2016. For people who sign up after Oct. 31, Amazon will take a service fee of 2.5 percent of each payment processed.

The first $10 in transaction fees will be credited back to the customer, essentially paying for the card reader.

That’s below most of its competitors’ rates. Square takes a fee of 2.75 percent of each transaction. PayPal Here takes 2.7 percent of each transaction and Intuit’s GoPayment rates start at 1.75 percent per transaction if businesses pay a $19.95 monthly rate or 2.4 percent of each transaction without a monthly payment.

That’s a helluva good deal from Amazon for small retailers, made possible by the company’s huge cash flow.

*****

cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image via Wired.com

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Can You Guess Which Smartphone is Easiest to Hack?

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

finspy A leaked Gamma Group study indicates which smartphones are the easiest to hack with FinSpy spyware:

Among the major mobile platforms cited in a chart in the document, all of them were susceptible to FinSpy. The spyware was able to bully its way into Android (all versions from 2.x.x to 4.4.x), BlackBerry (versions 5.x, 6.x., and 7.x), Symbian, and Windows Mobile 6.1 and 6.5 (Windows Phone 8 is not yet supported by the software). And what of iOS? Apple’s mobile OS did make the list but only in jailbroken mode.

And what can FinSpy do? Read:

FinSpy is “designed to help Law Enforcement and Intelligence Agencies to remotely monitor mobile phones and tablet devices.” FinSpy can gain full access to phone calls, text messages, the address book, and even the microphone via silent phone calls. It can also trace a device to determine its location. Used by law enforcement and government agencies, FinSpy has earned a reputation for itself as a powerful but controversial tool for sneaking into mobile devices.

Scary stuff. If you need Android’s openness, there’s probably no better alternative. But the vast majority of Android buyers don’t need open — they aren’t even really smartphone users. They buy Android because it’s inexpensive and it’s good enough and it works on their carrier. But what those buyers really are is feature phone users. They’d probably be better off, and they’d certainly be more secure, sticking with simpler Symbian devices.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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How to Make Two Buck Chuck? *Updated*

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

MERLOT

Chris Knox reports on the wee tiny corners Fred Franzia may cut from time to time to keep his Charles Shaw Wine so cheap:

A few things to keep in mind about his vineyards: one is that they are located in what is known as the Central Valley in the California wine world which is notoriously flat and quite hot producing massive yields of overripe grapes. The other thing is that Fred Franzia is no dummy – he planted those vineyards in such a way as the rows run north-south, giving the vines maximum sun exposure and he made the rows as long as he possibly could, minimizing the number of turns his tractors would need to make. And third, these aren’t hand-picked vineyards…they are all machine harvested. And that means these large tractors with huge claws go down the rows of vineyards grabbing the grapes and depositing them in its huge receptacle. And it not only grabs ripe grapes, but unripe and down right rotten ones as well and throws them all together. Add to that leaves, stems and any rodents, birds, or insects that may have made those vines their home – they all get thrown into the bin as well. And guess what? You think there’s going to be any sorting when that truck arrives at the winery (or should I say processing facility)? Nope. Everything, and I do mean everything (including all those unripe grapes, rotten grapes, leaves, stems, birds, rodents, and insects) gets tossed into the crusher and transferred to large tanks to ferment. So think about all the animal blood and parts that may have made their way into your wine next time you crack open that bottle of Two Buck Chuck! Hardly even seems worth the $2 does it?

If you were to taste that wine right after it was made, I guarantee you it would be undrinkable. They will then manipulate the finished wine in whatever way necessary, including adding sugar or unfermented grape juice if needed to make the wine palatable.

I need a drink.

Updated: “This blog post contained un-sourced claims about Two Buck Chuck and its proprietor, Bronco Wines. It has been removed from the site in accordance with our blogger terms.”

****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Dirty Bird Fried Chicken’s ‘Completely Inappropriate’ New Logo

Saturday, August 9th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

DIRTY BIRD

So this is a thing happening in Britain:

Dirty Bird, a mainstay at music festivals and events across Wales, ruffled feathers with its new logo design, which appalled locals described as “completely inappropriate.”

“I was queueing up with my two young sons when I looked at the logo and realised what it represents,” unhappy Abigail Griffiths told Wales Online. “It is not the sort of thing that should be on display around children.”

“The food was finger-licking good, but when I saw the logo I was a bit shocked,” added Denise Leyshon, yet another unsatisfied customer. “It’s not really what you want to think about when you’re tucking into your meal.”

Dirty Bird’s boss Neil Young has defended the design, saying he won’t bow to public pressure to alter it. He also claimed he didn’t see any resemblance to the male anatomy.

Sounds to me like the company’s critics are just being crotchety.

….

cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Little Tablet that Couldn’t

Friday, August 8th, 2014 - by Stephen Green
Nearly lap-able.

Nearly lap-able.

Oops:

Microsoft provided Surface tablets to the NFL teams that played in Sunday’s exhibition football game in Canton, Ohio. It hoped coaches and players would use the devices to study game-play photos on color screens instead of black-and-white printouts.

But some players and coaches opted to punt and use the old standby paper copies instead of the newfangled interactive device. During the broadcast, players could be seen flipping through paper printouts of game action.

Microsoft’s Surface is the official tablet of the NFL, a title it bought last year in a $400 million, five-year partnership with the league.

That’s not as bad as the celebs Samsung pays to be seen using Galaxy phones, who then get caught snapping selfies at the Oscars or wherever with their own personal iPhones — but it ain’t good.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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There Are no Hobbits

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Full page photo

From LaboratoryEquipment.com:

In October 2004, excavation of fragmentary skeletal remains from the island of Flores in Indonesia yielded what was called “the most important find in human evolution for 100 years.” Its discoverers dubbed the find Homo floresiensis, a name suggesting a previously unknown species of human.

In the first place, they write, the original figures for cranial volume and stature are underestimates, “markedly lower than any later attempts to confirm them.” Eckhardt, Henneberg and other researchers have consistently found a cranial volume of about 430 milliliters (26.2 cubic inches).

“The difference is significant, and the revised figure falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region,” Eckhardt said.

The original estimate of 3.5 feet for the creature’s height was based on extrapolation combining the short thighbone with a formula derived from an African pygmy population. But humans with Down syndrome also have diagnostically short thighbones, Eckhardt said.

I liked the idea of Hobbits sharing an Indonesian island with King Kong, but apparently he isn’t real either.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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This Facebook Deal’s Getting Creepier All the Time

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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You might be aware that a week or two ago, Facebook spun its mobile Messenger (which you’d be insane to use) out of the mobile Facebook app (which you’d also be insane to use), and into its own standalone app. But have you read the TOS? Sam Fiorella did:

If you’re one of those 1,000,000,000 people who have downloaded this app, take a moment to read the following. I’ve posted, word for word, a few of the most aggressive app permission you’ve accepted.

Allows the app to change the state of network connectivity

Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls. Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.

Allows the app to send SMS messages. This may result in unexpected charges. Malicious apps may cost you money by sending messages without your confirmation.

Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.

Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.

Allows the app to read you phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls. This permission allows apps to save your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge.

Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.

Allows the app to read personal profile information stored on your device, such as your name and contact information. This means the app can identify you and may send your profile information to others.

Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.

Allows the app to get a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications you have installed.

The fact that social media and mobile apps are so insidious is nothing new, we all know (or should know) that no app is truly free. “Free” online apps are paid for by the provision of personal data such as name, location, browsing history, etc. In turn, mobile developers and social networks charge advertisers to serve up highly targeted ads to specific groups of people.

In a way, it pays to offer some personal information for a better experience with online ads, which we all hate so much. However, Facebook Messenger’s attempt to collect so much information and take control of our devices is unprecedented and, quite frankly, frightening.

Forget using Facebook Messenger — it’s a privacy and control breech simply having it installed.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image via Bloom Design / Shutterstock.com

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Who the Nazis Captured 70 Years Ago Today

Monday, August 4th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

FRANK

Anne Frank’s last diary entry — she was taken by the Nazis 70 years ago today.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Shape of the Moon

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

MOON

From the Register:

A paper published in the July 30 issue of Nature by Ian Garrick-Bethell – an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at University of California Santa Cruz – examines the shape of the Moon as it would be had not millions of meteorite collisions knocked chunks off it, and ponders how it got that way.

“If you imagine spinning a water balloon, it will start to flatten at the poles and bulge at the equator,” Garrick-Bethell said. “On top of that you have tides due to the gravitational pull of the Earth, and that creates sort of a lemon shape with the long axis of the lemon pointing at the Earth.”

The Moon formed about four billion years ago and was initially much closer to Earth, and spinning rather more than it does today. As the Moon cooled and hardened, the effects of tidal forces exerted by Earth froze the surface into a slightly elongated shape with a bulge pointing towards Earth and a corresponding bump on the other side.

I think she’s just as rotational and spherical as she was at two billion.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Deadly Dongle

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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From Wired:

Nohl and Lell, researchers for the security consultancy SR Labs, are hardly the first to point out that USB devices can store and spread malware. But the two hackers didn’t merely copy their own custom-coded infections into USB devices’ memory. They spent months reverse engineering the firmware that runs the basic communication functions of USB devices—the controller chips that allow the devices to communicate with a PC and let users move files on and off of them. Their central finding is that USB firmware, which exists in varying forms in all USB devices, can be reprogrammed to hide attack code. “You can give it to your IT security people, they scan it, delete some files, and give it back to you telling you it’s ‘clean,’” says Nohl. But unless the IT guy has the reverse engineering skills to find and analyze that firmware, “the cleaning process doesn’t even touch the files we’re talking about.”

The problem isn’t limited to thumb drives. All manner of USB devices from keyboards and mice to smartphones have firmware that can be reprogrammed—in addition to USB memory sticks, Nohl and Lell say they’ve also tested their attack on an Android handset plugged into a PC. And once a BadUSB-infected device is connected to a computer, Nohl and Lell describe a grab bag of evil tricks it can play. It can, for example, replace software being installed with with a corrupted or backdoored version. It can even impersonate a USB keyboard to suddenly start typing commands. “It can do whatever you can do with a keyboard, which is basically everything a computer does,” says Nohl.

The malware can silently hijack internet traffic too, changing a computer’s DNS settings to siphon traffic to any servers it pleases. Or if the code is planted on a phone or another device with an internet connection, it can act as a man-in-the-middle, secretly spying on communications as it relays them from the victim’s machine.

I’ve always behaved as though if anyone can get physical hold of my computer or device, they can crack it. I behave that way because it’s true. But this new threat can be piggybacked into any USB device, opening up avenues that were only open before if someone got physical hold of your stuff.

My advice? Don’t borrow any wired keyboard or mice. And if you use an Android phone or tablet, charge it on a wall charger, period — don’t plug it into your Windows or Mac computer.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image via shutterstock /  Piti Tan

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(Still) The Camera of the Future

Friday, August 1st, 2014 - by Stephen Green

ILLUM

Light-field photography is potentially a very powerful way to shoot. Instead of recording a single still image on a flat sheet of film or silicon, it records the way the light enters the camera. This trick allows the shooter or the viewer to change a picture’s focus, perspective, or otherwise manipulate in 3D. Really, the resulting image isn’t a picture as we currently understand it.

A company called Lytro has been leading the, uh, field of study, and has just introduced its first real camera. The results can be impressive, but unfortunately the Illum isn’t ready for primetime:

It never really feels like everything’s working properly. If I captured too many shots too quickly, the camera would freeze or crash spectacularly. Once, I framed and fired a shot, and all the Illum recorded was black. The touchscreen picks odd moments to be slow or just unresponsive. Each image takes a few seconds to process, after which it either will or won’t refocus when you tap on the screen for no reason. The Illum’s autofocus is basically nonexistent, meaning you’re stuck manually focusing for every shot. There’s no image stabilization, so if you’re zoomed in you either need a tripod or the world’s steadiest hands. It feels like every time you push the Illum, try to explore its capabilities, it just breaks down. And if there’s one way to immediately alienate the customer who’s most likely to part with $1,500 for this camera, it’s to build a product that can’t hack it under pressure.

This is Lytro’s biggest problem, the most frustrating thing about the Illum. It’s made for and sold to professional photographers, those pushing at the creative edges of their profession. It can’t replace a DSLR (though I wish it could), and Lytro knows that. But buyers with $1,500 to spend on a second or third camera want certain things: fine manual control, quick access to settings, sharp images, adaptive performance to any conditions, easy processing, and much more. In way too many places, the Illum doesn’t deliver to the expectations of its target audience.

The price isn’t a big deal for pros used to spending that much or more on one high-speed telephoto lens. But the camera has got to function, flawlessly, shot after shot under field conditions.

I hope Lytro gets serious about producing a quality project, and quickly. For the next generation of photographers, children already used to playing with their images on touchscreens, light-field photography will be as natural to them as switching out lenses is to generations of SLR shooters.

So there’s that — and I really really want one.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Kindle and Price Elasticity

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 - by Stephen Green

BEZOS

Amazon posted an explanation of the economics behind their row with book publisher Hachette:

It’s also important to understand that e-books are highly price-elastic. This means that when the price goes up, customers buy much less. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.

The important thing to note here is that at the lower price, total revenue increases 16%. This is good for all the parties involved.

Of course. This is Econ 101 stuff, and it’s deeply weird that Amazon should have to explain it to a profitable publisher. And a wider audience for a writer gives him better luck of having another hit with his next book, too.

More interesting was this last bit:

One more note on our proposal for how the total revenue should be shared. While we believe 35% should go to the author and 35% to Hachette, the way this would actually work is that we would send 70% of the total revenue to Hachette, and they would decide how much to share with the author. We believe Hachette is sharing too small a portion with the author today, but ultimately that is not our call.

Message to authors: Go indie and cut out the greedy and ignorant middleman.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Why Samsung and Amazon Stumbled

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

TIZEN

The South Korean electronics giant had planned to debut its new smartphone running the company’s home-brewed Tizen operating system in Russia, but the debut has been postponed indefinitely:

It didn’t give any details about what precisely needed to be defined or how long the delay would be, but the reference to the ‘Tizen ecosystem’ hinted at fresh concerns over the availability of apps and related services that are needed to make the product sell.

Such concerns were, in part, behind the decisions of network operators NTT DoCoMo and France’s Orange SA to pull out of promotional campaigns launching the Tizen phone.

Samsung has already launched Tizen-driven smartwatches and cameras, but is desperate to extend it to smartphones in order to gain more control over the end-user experience in its most important products. Its license agreement with Google GOOG restricts its freedom to make more than cosmetic changes to the Android system.

Copying somebody else’s hardware to run somebody else’s software and buying up marketshare is easy. Creating your own ecosystem to protect yourself from even cheaper copycats and bossy software providers is hard.

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It’s the Sci-Fi Disaster Scenario That Didn’t Happen — But Barely

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

STORM

From CNet.com:

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.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Next Big Player in the Drone Wars?

Monday, July 28th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

MR ROBOTO

Japan:

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?

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Beetles Kill Beatles Tree

Friday, July 25th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

GEORGE

Um:

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.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Billy Joel’s Best Musical Period

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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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.

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So Here’s a Picture of a Cat Riding a Burrito in Outer Space

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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