Jerry Seinfeld recently called YouTube “a giant garbage can [...] for user-generated content.”
I can’t fault him for saying this. In this narcissistic age, YouTube is just one of the many receptacles of vanity available to the demos.
That said, Seinfeld’s comment is ultimately inaccurate. I think it’s useful to think of YouTube not as a garbage can but as a flea market. Flea markets are full of junk whose owners think it worthwhile enough to attempt to sell to the general public. Most of the stuff is worth only a quick glance and a shrug or a scoff. But there are also little treasures to be found—things that are available quite literally nowhere else on the planet.
Consider all the things you’ve searched for, and found, on YouTube. Now consider where else you would have been able to find them absent YouTube. Nowhere. Well, perhaps somewhere, but not without onerous searching, waiting, and probably paying.
Old debates? Documentaries? Tutorials on fly fishing? Old episodes of Miami Vice? That boxing match from 1992? That cartoon you watched as a kid? Winston Churchill speeches? Phil Collins singing at Live Aid? You found it all on YouTube.
Now play the same game, but with the Internet in general. I’ll wait….
This featurette evoking the creative futurism of Walt Disney, which took one form in his Epcot Center and will take another in this year’s feature film Tomorrowland, reminds us how vast the entrepreneur’s vision truly was. He clung to an optimistic view of the future where urban planning would improve the quality of life for new generations.
When we consider such past visions of the future, like that of 2015 imagined in 1989’s Back to the Future, Part II, we clearly see how much they deviate from our modern reality.
Why is it so difficult to predict future developments, and what lesson should we take away from that observation? Technology futurist Daniel Burrus relates in the clip below how we tend to focus on the wrong things when predicting the future. He provides some insights into how to focus on the right things, and profit from it.
Twitter argues it is trying to be a good citizen online. But, does it makes sense to tee-off terrorists and Game of Thrones zealots in the same week? Probably. Otherwise the government will want to take over the job–then there could be a real information dictatorship.
When the first explorers set out to the New World, they knew some of them would not return. People would die and ships would sink. Later, as we developed new technology, we knew jets would blow up and trains crash as we figured out the technology. We accepted danger as the price of progress.
Nowadays, we’re less likely to accept that risk.
A company working in tandem with the US government will find itself tied to the government’s regulations and caution. Thus, a destructive error could mean the company’s space efforts will be stalled, maybe even for years. Before each shuttle disaster, the program had had 20 or more successful missions (25 before Challenger and 87 between Challenger and Colombia). Nonetheless, the Challenger and Columbia disasters each halted the space shuttle program for over two years. Imagine a business being forced to delay operations that long because of a malfunction.
Even without a failure to slow operations, there may be delays. SpaceX, working with NASA, launched the Dragon resupply capsule in May 2012. SpaceX founder Elon Musk then predicted having a crew-ready capsule by 2014 based on the resupply vehicle, but it had to undergo a redesign to meet government safety regulations, and is now slated for a 2017 launch.
Private companies operating on their own will nonetheless have to concern themselves with government regulation, and the possibility of government control. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, launching nations are responsible for the space activities of the equipment they send into space. That could mean that if a US-launched company causes a disaster with its space-exploration activities, the US is liable for damages. This is affirmed in the Liability Convention of 1973. Already, space businesses doing launch have extensive liability agreements with the launching nation, but so far, we’ve only had to deal with machines. How will the picture change when human lives are at stake?
We may find out this year. On Halloween 2014, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo was destroyed in a test flight. Virgin Galactic is nonetheless planning to test the second SpaceShipTwo and build a third, but as agreed it will make any modifications recommended by the government investigation. Even though the National Transportation Safety Board has determined the crash was caused by co-pilot error, it has also said it may need up to nine more months to finish its investigation and make recommendations.
OSHA in Space
Virgin Galactic is only concerned with suborbital flights, and with its current motor configurations, it will not cross the Karman line, the “designated barrier” between atmosphere and outer space. Crossing this line is where flyers become astronauts, even if Virgin Galactic ever gets past this line, its passengers will receive more of an honorary designation of “astronaut” than a practical one. What issues will companies face for those astronauts who will not only cross the Karman Line, but live and work beyond it?
Naturally, the technical issues of safety are huge. Terrestrial dangers aside, a malfunction or human error in space can mean the life-threatening loss of oxygen or heat. Even when all goes well, there is still the matter of radiation, micrometeoroids – even space trash.
In short, even when we’ve successfully and safely gotten Out There, we still have a lot of dangers to contend with. However, the modern world isn’t as comfortable with taking risks, anymore. From mandatory seatbelts to OSHA regulations, we have rules to enforce safe operations. At some point, however, those regulations may strangle our push into space.
One example is the 3% REID rule set by OSHA for astronauts. In 1982, OSHA declared astronauts were radiation workers, and thus employers must protect them from the dangers of ionizing radiation, which can cause death through severe internal damage or by the causing cancer. The standards were set by OSHA for earth-bound workers such as those in nuclear plants. While NASA has a waiver that makes allowances for the space environment, it is still low: an astronaut cannot be exposed to more radiation than may cause a 3% risk of exposer-induced death (REID) over the course of their career. NASA has further limitations, because long-term exposure can cause cancer.
First, that’s a very low risk factor. Crew members on the space station will receive that much exposure in six months on the ISS if those six months are during low-radiation times. Imagine a space industry where the employees can only spend six months in space in their entire careers. As it is, one of the major stalls to a manned Mars mission is the fact that we cannot create shielding strong enough to ensure this low a risk rate that is still light enough to get the ship into orbit. We may have to make a choice: find a way to waive the #5 REID rule or wait until we can develop the shield technology.
Now, let’s add some more complexity: It turns out there is a difference between men and women, after all. Women cannot handle as much radiation exposure as men. Will companies be forced to discriminate? Will women have to have special suits, designated habitats, and limited assignments in order to keep them from too much exposure? Will we up the safety bar for men, thus putting more limits on what we do in space, or will we allow women to accept the increased risk?
Finally, one more issue to deal with. The Outer Space Treaty could be interpreted to mean launching nations are responsible for the company’s ensuring safe operations in space – at least where the equipment it launched is concerned. This gets even more fun if we consider that one company may launch different components from different nations. You could work on a station whose habitats were launched from Florida, French Gianna, and China. Who regulates safety for the station as a whole? Since we’ve not had any commercial manned missions, no one has thought about whether that means a company must follow the worker safety regulations of its “home” nation, its launching nation, or both. Perhaps an international standard is the answer.
Is It Just About Regulations?
This article framed the safety issues in terms of liability and law, but the fact is, public attitude reflects and drives our laws. Our rules decry “Safety First!” because our society has not only made safety the most important thing, but also holds employers and companies responsible. There are individuals who are willing to take the great risks. We, as a society and as a governing body, must find a balance between safety and enterprise. Perhaps Safety is Third, after all.
Next Week’s Conclusion: 3 Reasons Why We Haven’t Conquered Space Yet, #3: Show Me the Money
When Columbus accidentally discovered the New World, it sparked an age of exploration and colonization that changed humanity forever. People now look at space and wonder why we’ve not done the same thing. There’s so much out there: potential wealth, new lands to explore, and opportunities for adventure. The only thing holding us back from similarly conquering the Final Frontier is technology, right?
Wrong. The world has changed since we launched from safe shores to parts unknown, where maps ended with “Here be Dragons.” We are more bureaucratic, more legalistic, and more cautious. Space exploration raises questions of economics and policy for which there are no historical precedents. The hurdles to conquering space aren’t just in the areas of science and engineering. Before we can truly branch out to other worlds, we will need to conquer the non-technological challenges of this world.
The UN Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space has negotiated five treaties, four of which were ratified by the United States. Those treaties, which were all written before 1980, spoke from a more nationalistic approach to space travel and use than a commercial one. In general, they call for international cooperation and the international sharing of resources from space for the benefit of all mankind. While the major spacefaring nations maintain that individual nations are permitted to “use” and exploit space, there are still issues.
When we colonized the New World, there was an understanding that the profit and materials gathered there belonged to the colonists, company or country funding the endeavor. In space, there’s no such assurance. Right now, we’ve not had an issue because all we’ve sold is information gathered in the use of space. How we handle selling physical materials, not just in sale but resale, needs to be addressed before companies can confidently take their industries outside our atmosphere.
Property rights are also an issue. When we colonized the New World, people had governments to back up their right to an area of land. Currently, no nation is allowed to stake claim to any part of a celestial body, whether an area of the moon, an asteroid, or even the space above their nation. There is the understanding that if an area is occupied (or in the case of robots, in active use), no other nation or organization will infringe upon that area. However, what if the settlement is temporarily abandoned or the machines shut down? There’s no law or enforcement to prevent another organization from stepping in and taking over.
Finally, there’s also a mandate that nations are responsible for the things that launch from their territory, even if it’s done by a commercial service. For example, if Asteroids, Inc., launches a satellite out of French Guiana, France becomes the nation responsible for the satellite’s actions. That’s fairly straightforward when it comes to satellites, but what about a large mining or asteroid transfer operation, where Asteroids, Inc., may launch several pieces of its operation out of multiple nations? If the op fails – such as the asteroid missing its mark and hitting a station or the Earth – several nations could be held responsible. Naturally, any nation that is responsible for a company is going to want to have regulations to make sure that the company doesn’t break international laws, and to have liability agreements worked out. Plus it will need the ability to enforce regulations and to work cooperative agreements among other nations.
While some of this work has already been started for satellite launch and operations, there is still much to do. Here in the United States, Congress recently addressed this issue with the Asteroids Act, HR 5063, which was proposed in July 2014 and pushed to the 2015 session of Congress. It gives more definite interpretations of the Outer Space Treaty and its role in enforcing it as well as calls for the government to reduce barriers to the development of space industries. In the meantime, the FAA has issued a letter to Bigelow Aerospace declaring the government’s support of non-interference in private sector operations and a company’s need to protect its assets. However, we have a long way to go in this arena.
A Push-Me-Pull-You Relationship with the Government:
For all that NASA has high hopes and grand plans, it depends on government approval of its budget and activities. It’s difficult to keep a space program going and focused on a coherent space mission when presidencies change every 4-8 years, and Congresses even more often than that. The priorities of the government are terrestrial. Since our government isn’t going to make a significant short-or-long-term profit on space, its members are going to be more focused on the immediate needs of jobs, economy and welfare.
Really, if we’re going to get a true foothold in space, we cannot depend on the government to do it.
However, commercial industries are still dependent on the government for money, for protection, for regulation, and because of the treaties. That means companies need to play politics in addition to getting their technological game on.
As the commercial role in space expands, the government’s bureaucracy will expand, too. Currently, NASA and the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation handle regulations and supervision, but its focus is on launches. Whether it expands to meet the needs of mining, colonization and trade, or if a new department is created, there will be growing pains. Further, we face a chicken-and-egg issue: the government won’t address these issues until they become “real,” but space industries can’t move forward until they know they have government backing.
The bureaucracy won’t just cover operations, either. For all that governments talk about cooperation, they will protect economic secrets and set rules on which countries they will trust with cooperation. Even in the area of space launch, the government has controls throughout the process, right down to with whom locally-based companies can discuss their research or set up contracts. As Elon Musk noted, red tape can delay even discussing a launch for months.
What happens when we start mining, industry, colonies? It’s easy to believe that once we are Out There, we can move past nationalism, terrestrial regulations and bureaucratic red tape, but as long as the home offices are Earthbound, governments will have responsibility and influence.
What Does It Mean?
What this boils down to, then, is patience and politics, lawyers and lobbyists. Unlike exploring new lands, conquering Outer Space is truly forging new frontiers – in law as well as territory. Uncle Sam is no Queen Isabella who according to some accounts, took a leap of faith and sponsored his dangerous and fateful trip. In all fairness, we can’t work that way anymore; the world has gotten too interdependent, too complex.
However, as companies show themselves willing to take the leap, governments will have to also step forward with the regulations and concrete agreements that will allow those companies to not only make use of space’s materials but profit materially from that use – while making sure not to strangle budding companies in red tape.
Next Week: 3 Reasons Why We Haven’t Conquered Space Yet, #2: Safety Third
Andrew Sullivan, of whose posturing and pettiness I’ve been critical in the past, retired from blogging in January, citing burnout and health problems.
In a recent interview, Sullivan described in starker detail how constant blogging (up to 40 posts a day) destroyed his health and personal life:
“The truth is, I had to stop primarily because it was killing me,” Sullivan said Sunday night at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. “I used to joke that if blogging does kill someone, I would be the first to find out.”
Sullivan also described the “dehumanizing” aspect of ceaseless online commentary:
“I spent a decade of my life, spending around seven hours a day in intimate conversation with around 70,000 to 100,000 people every day,” Sullivan said. “And inevitably, for those seven hours or more, I was not spending time with any actual human being, with a face and a body and a mind and a soul.”
I don’t blame the guy for leaving, and I wish him well in a life away from the often soul-wrending glow of the computer screen.
What Sullivan is describing is something all of us in 2015 face to some degree: with our lives increasingly synced and integrated with electronic online devices, there is a constant need to be “on,” in the moment, all the time… but not with any real people. This is exhausting, in a way that interaction with actual humans is not.
When I first read the Sullivan interview, I laughed a bit when he said that blogging was killing him. After some reflection, I do think it could happen.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, while a wife and a mother of a special needs child, pioneered an all-female staffed software company in England in the 1960s. Fascinated by technology, she also had a head for business. Possessing an interest in employing working mothers, her staff were able to work from home in a variety of capacities, including as coders and programmers. A self-made millionaire, Shirley turned many of her employees into millionaires as well by opening stock options to them at a time when that was a relatively unheard of benefit.
Adopting the nickname “Steve” in order to get her foot in the door with male clients, she employed “extraordinary energy, self-belief and determination” in a pre-second wave feminist era. Shirley didn’t wait for bras to be burned or Gloria Steinem to appear in her bunny suit before taking charge. In fact, the UK’s Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, a direct result of the second wave feminist backlash, required that Shirley hire more men into what she was proud to make a nearly all-female company.
This pioneering businesswoman’s story flies in the face of second wave feminist tropes regarding female business owners, women in the workplace, equal pay and women in STEM. Which demands the question: If feminism seeks to be an empowering voice for women, what can it learn from the ideologies, like capitalism, that it chooses to berate or ignore?
Comic books, and the pop culture that have grown around them, serve as morality plays about power and its uses. No trope is more common, and more tired, than the absurd lengths most heroes go to in order to keep from killing villains. This serves to show heroes responsibly using their power, keeping their humanity.
It’s a bunch of crap.
Batman and Spiderman, princes of the respective DC and Marvel universes, are famous for this. By keeping from killing, in their minds, they keep themselves from becoming bad guys. They go to sleep, consciences clear that they are not killers.
Tell that to the citizens of New York and Gotham who die whenever the Green Goblin, Carnage or the Joker go on a rampage.
Spiderman is famous for saying that with great power comes great responsibility. That philosophy led him to wear tights and protect the Big Apple. Bruce Wayne wanted to clean up the city to which his family dedicated their lives.
But these heroes exercise their power in half-measures.
They’re fighting villains with incredibly destructive powers, that police can’t stop and super prisons can’t contain. In letting them live to fight another day, superheroes engage in the equivalent of leaving live hand grenades in a playground.
Dead supervillains can’t kill citizens.
By choosing to let their enemies live to fight another day, the superheroes share some measure of blame for the ensuing deaths. Indulging their sentimentality is a narcissistic cowardice.
Failing to look at this guilt serves as a major flaw in the morality tales and serves a terrible lesson in the use of power, though it’s one the authors don’t intend.
Real life gives us a counter-example to the facile comic book morality in Chris Kyle. America’s most successful sniper killed in one of the most intimate ways, hunting individuals and seeing them through the scope before he pulled the trigger. A patriot and hero, Kyle used his amazing skill to protect his fellow American servicemen.
That meant killing the enemy. He had to take the shot on men, women and children.
Kyle brought the psychic scars home with him. He suffered for his efforts to protect others. And in that protection, he not only saved the lives of those to whom he acted as overwatch but the terrorists’ future victims.
And given that Al Qaeda in Iraq became ISIS, we know that there would be future victims.
Unfortunately, we have a political class that takes the Batman view of fighting rather than the Kyle method when it comes to fighting Islamic jihadists.
We are at war.
We know that because ISIS has declared its war and bragged about showing up in New York.
State Department spokesman Marie Harf talks about responding to this threat with Tweets and a jobs program. She might as well have quoted the Green Arrow, saying that we can’t win a war by killing the enemy – I think she misses the actual definition of war here – but we need jobs programs.
We’ve played by comic book rules for over a decade in the War on Terror.
Our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan looked like they’d been planned by sophomoric moral philosophy of Peter Parker, not the hard realities of war we’ve known since Sun Tzu and Clausewitz.
President George W. Bush’s use of force showed tied hands. Just look at the looting of Baghdad in the initial days of the Iraq invasion. For all of the vaunted “shock and awe” of military planners, the failure to use necessary force presaged a war focused on winning hearts and mind. He wanted the enemy to love us and in turn created an insurgency that mocked and despised us.
A decade later, ISIS has established a caliphate, something the world had not seen in a century. The Joker and Doctor Octopus are back, cutting off heads off Christians.
Yet President Barack Obama will not even speak our enemy’s name and the upshot of his “terror summit” is that we’ll work harder to make Muslims feel better. That, along with some judicious #HashtagActivism, will make things right.
Half-measures in fighting our enemies might allow Presidents Bush and Obama to sleep easier at night, thinking that their hands are cleaner than they might otherwise be if they called for the sort of wars America saw in the past. They console themselves that they have not ordered Sherman’s March to the Sea or the burnings of Dresden and Tokyo.
They should find no consolation in these facts but condemnation. They should be Lady Macbeth, seeking to wash away the blood on their hands.
Here’s the thing. With the great power of the Presidency comes the responsibility of losing sleep.
The Civil War and Second World War share two characteristics.
One is that they were savage, bloody conflict.
The second is that America won clear and unambiguous victories. The South has not risen again. The Axis powers have spent seven decades without threatening world peace.
Our enemies knew they were beaten. The methods that brought them to that conclusion were harsh, unspeakably harsh.
The essay above is the second in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Islandexploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism.
Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming
Imagine it’s the future. You have your jet pack, your laser gun, your robot butler, your much smaller or much bigger phone (I don’t really get what direction phones are going right now). The music of kids these days is awful beyond all human comprehension. No one celebrates Earth Day anymore because we’ve found much better planets more worth celebrating and live on those. So do you see yourself there, in the future? Now I want you to answer one question: What does your tax bill look like?
That’s my question today: What is the future of government? Hi, I’m Frank J. Fleming. You might remember me from a bunch of political humor writing and a great peace plan that involves nuking only one natural satellite, but now I’m also a science fiction author. Liberty Island has published my first novel, Superego, which is a heartwarming story about a genetically engineered psychotic hitman who accidentally becomes a hero, falls in love, and, of course, kills lots of people. My intention in writing the novel was for it to be a fun action-adventure, but I explore a lot of themes in the novel that seem worth discussing. And one of the themes is what could happen to government in the future.
Now, anyone who knows how to use a calculator does not predict a great future for the U.S. government, but I’m not talking about specific governments here (like whether a thousand years from now there will still inexplicably be a Canada). I’m talking about the nature of government in general and how that might evolve.
When you think of a future government, probably the first thing that pops into your mind is the Federation in Star Trek. Another might be the Empire from Star Wars, but I said we’re talking about government in the future, and the Empire is from a long time ago. Anyway, the Federation is a more left-wing, highly organized type of government. And what do all the ships in the Federation have? Phasers and proton torpedos — because if you’re going to go around the galaxy telling people what to do, you’re going to need them.
The Federation reflects a problem with our current model of government and why it might not last into the future. That’s because it’s still based on a rather primitive notion: I’m bigger than you, so you have to do what I say. The first government was probably the largest guy in the tribe ruthlessly enforcing the rule that no one could make fun of his fancy leader hat, and then things escalated from there. In a way, government is a more civilized way of putting a gun to someone’s head to make them do something — whether those edicts come from a democratically elected government or a single guy with a fancy leader hat. The reason most people obey laws — even really asinine ones — is that they know the government is big and can hurt them if they don’t. We don’t see something like passing a tax on cigarettes as a violent act, but that’s what Eric Garner got killed over. If the government is interested in enforcing a law, it will have to resort to using violence if someone does not comply. And the progressive vision of the future of government is that we will be threatened with violence over more and more things, like if we don’t buy health insurance or if our soda is too large.
In Superego, man has spread out to countless planets and interacts with numerous other sentient species, all with their own laws and customs. There are also spaceships that allow nearly instantaneous travel across the galaxy, which means someone could commit a crime on one planet and quickly get to some place where the government has no jurisdiction. The scope of the universe’s population has basically gotten too big for a traditional centralized government, meaning government can’t enforce much and thus becomes rather feckless — like a space Europe. This leaves a vacuum that is filled by ruthless criminal syndicates — organizations that don’t worry about borders or jurisdiction and rule wherever they’re strong enough to enforce their will. Which leads to an interesting side question about government: How is an organization like a mafia different from a traditional government, if at all?
So that’s what I see: Government just won’t work in the future. Eventually the scope of humanity (and perhaps alien-ity) will get so big that governments will either become irrelevant or will have to become extremely ruthless to keep enforcing their will. And, anyway, is our vision of the future really that the only way people can live together is if we have this big entity threatening us with fines and imprisonment over millions and millions of different things? Instead I think our future — at least the one we should aim for — is using our advances in technology and our knowledge to find more ways people can work together voluntarily. We’ll always need punishments for theft and violence, but perhaps we can find ways to work together and provide for the poor and needy without all the threats over non-violent actions, such as how we choose to run our own lives or our own businesses. It does seem like a nicer, more peaceful future than our current arc.
So along with my rocket ships and genetically engineered miniature T. rex, I see little to no tax bill at all.
The essay above is the beginning of the second volume in the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Islandexploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:
In early 2014 U.S. Navy submarine detection experts got a scare when a Russian Vishnya class AGI (Auxiliary General Intelligence, or electronic reconnaissance) ship was seen several times off the east coast of Florida, in the vicinity of naval air and submarine bases. The Vishnya spotted off Florida was accompanied by a sea going tug. Both ships used Cuban ports for resupply. The two ships apparently first showed up in Cuba in February. What scared the submarine detection crowd was the recent realization that computers had become cheap and powerful enough to make it possible to detect submarines via the faint signs (like disturbance of the surface waters above them) that they leave. It has been known for decades that these telltale signs existed and that with sufficient computing power and sensitive enough sensors you could use this method to track submarines in real time. In other words, it no longer mattered how quiet a sub was, just whether it was there or not and moving. U.S. Navy experts had been doing the math and realized that the time was rapidly approaching, if not already here, when the sensors were sensitive enough and the computers fast enough to unmask all current subs.
“All current subs” would of course include our 14 Ohio-class nuclear missile boats, carrying over half the deployed warheads of our nuclear deterrent.
Thought you could watch that video on your local hard drive without ads? Think again: A number of owners of Samsung’s smart TVs are reporting this week that their TV sets started to interrupt their movie viewing with Pepsi ads, which seem to be dynamically inserted into third-party content.
“Every movie I play 20-30 minutes in it plays the pepsi ad, no audio but crisp clear ad. It has happened on 6 movies today,” a user reported on Reddit, where a number of others were struggling with the same problem.
Reports for the unwelcome ad interruption first surfaced on a Subreddit dedicated to Plex, the media center app that is available on a variety of connected devices, including Samsung smart TVs. Plex users typically use the app to stream local content from their computer or a network-attached storage drive to their TV, which is why many were very surprised to see an online video ad being inserted into their videos.
Putting ads into movies you own? Yep:
It looks like the ad insertion was accidentally turned on by default for apps that it wasn’t actually meant for, but the faux pas points to a bigger issue: Device makers like Samsung have long tried to figure out how to monetize their platforms and generate additional revenue in a time where margins on hardware are slim at best.
Back in the ’60s when color TV was introduced, Sony almost went broke by refusing to put out a color model. The reason for that was Sony founder Akio Morita didn’t want to sell a “me-too” color TV. The company’s B&W sets were the best money could buy, and he was going to make damn sure the same was true when the company finally put out color sets.
The result was the innovative Trinitron color tube, which went on to define the best color screens money could buy — for the next 35 or more years.
Today, everybody is using pretty much the exact same LCD screens, printed in massive sheets by inexpensive Asian suppliers. That’s sucked all the profit out of the big screen market, which is why TV makers are instead competing on how many software functions they can cram into your set.
Of course, none of these manufacturers know squat about good software or what might actually be a smart way to make TVs “smart,” and so consumers are stuck paying more for a lot of crap they mostly don’t use, and which barely works when they try.
Ideally, a TV set should be a dumb screen like it always was, and consumers would each add the “smart” their own way — through the set-top box of their choice. But then companies like Samsung are stuck selling zero-margin dumb screens, and they don’t like that.
If TV makers really want to earn fatter profits on smarter hardware, then they’d better get a whole let better at writing software. To date however, they show zero talent for it.
*”Trinitron” is Sony branding for “three in one electron.” The Trinitron CRT electron gun combined a typical color tube’s three electron guns into one, giving the beam a greater depth of field. As a result, a Trinitron screen could be made flat in the vertical plane. All other screens curved back towards all four corners, like a rectangular section cut out of a sphere. A Trinitron screen was like a rectangular section cut out of a cylinder. That shape allowed for fine wires (the “aperture grill”) to be used behind the glass, instead of the bulkier mesh (“shadow mask”) used by standard color sets. As a result, more of the electron beam hit each color phosphor, transferring more energy to the screen and creating a sharper and more vivid picture.
For 2015, iOS 9 is going to include a collection of under-the-hood improvements. Sources tell us that iOS 9 engineers are putting a “huge” focus on fixing bugs, maintaining stability, and boosting performance for the new operating system, rather than solely focusing on delivering major new feature additions. Apple will also continue to make efforts to keep the size of the OS and updates manageable, especially for the many millions of iOS device owners with 16GB devices.
It’s unclear whether this might be accomplished by limiting iOS 9 support to relatively recent devices. If the iPhone 5c, original iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch are discontinued by the end of 2015, all of Apple’s “currently available” iOS devices would be using 64-bit A7, A8, and A9 processors. This could simplify iOS development for both Apple and third-party app developers.
Like Snow Leopard, iOS 9 will be pitched with stability as a tentpole component, but under-the-hood enhancements will not be the only feature.
All I can say is: It’s time — and I hope the do the same thing for this year’s OS X 10.11 release.
The annual release schedule could easily take a breather for Macs, which are slaves to Intel’s schedule, rather than to the autumn iDevice reveal. As the story notes, Apple kinda-sorta took a release cycle off with Snow Leopard. Instead of introducing big new features, Snow Leopard focused on stability and bug fixes, as well as completing the move to 64-bit architecture. Much as I love Yosemite, something like “Snow Yosemite” would be welcome.
Operating systems, even mobile ones, are big, complex beasts. Apple would be smart — Microsoft and Google, too — by moving to a “tick-tock” release schedule like Intel does with CPUs. The “tock” generation of chips introduces a new architecture, but the next “tick” generation is just a die-shrink. Some automakers do much the same thing. An all-new model might come with an existing engine, then two or three year later, an all-new engine goes into the mid-model refresh. Engines and models are each on, say, a six-year replacement cycle, but staggered. This year’s iOS/OS X/Android/Windows has big new features, next year’s version concentrates on making it “just work.”
It would be bad for the sales brochures, but better for Apple, Windows, and Android users to get off the annual BIG NEW FEATURES annual cycle and on to a “tick-tock” biannual cycle.
We want to live forever. We seek immortality through a variety of means, living vicariously through our children, leaving a legacy in our community, and embracing the claims of religion.
But what if we could actually live indefinitely here on Earth? What if we could elect to live for centuries or even millennia? Would we want to?
Zoltan Istvan thinks so. Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller interviews the author of The Transhumanist Wager in the video above. They come to an interesting aside when Weissmueller inquires about cultural resistance to the idea of technological immortality. Aren’t some people actually revolted by the idea? Istvan answers:
America and many places around the world are quite religious, especially America…a poll said 83% are still declaring themselves Christian. That makes it hard to want to take death out of the equation, because a natural part of the Christian ideology is to die and to eventually reach an afterlife with God…
While Istvan may anticipate the reaction of some, the Christian faith doesn’t necessarily preclude an embrace of transhumanist technology. It depends on the particular nature of the tech. There’s nothing in mainstream Christian doctrine which would forbid something like artificial organs, for instance. And if replacing organs could extend life by decades or more, why not?
… it’s not as though wanting to live indefinitely is something that’s going to intrude and conflict with one’s religion. It’s just something that’s kind of the evolving nature of the species. And if you can get people to think like that, and not see it in conflict with their own ideologies, then I think they’re going to be more on board with saying, “Yeah, it’s good to live 150, 200 years.” And again, I’m not saying let’s live forever. I don’t think any transhumanists are saying that. I think what we want is the choice to be able to live indefinitely. That might be 10,000 years. That might only be 170 years.
The line might be drawn at technology which changes one’s nature to something non-human. When we look at something like uploading one’s consciousness to a computer, the question must be asked: would you still be “you?” Or would you be essentially committing suicide?
The notion of living indefinitely, unto itself, should actually appeal to the Christian. After all, everlasting life is the promise of Christian salvation, and lifespans greatly surpassing those common today are recorded throughout scripture. Adam lived to 930. Noah made it to 950. Enoch was “taken” before his time at the tender young age of 365. For the believer who takes scripture literally, the notion of living for centuries has precedence.
Before we get to that the cutesy headline to this post would have been “iHealth,” but with the introduction of Apple Watch last year, it’s clear that Tim Cook is moving away from Jobsian “i” branding of its products. The i moniker will likely stick to existing products, but the direction is clear. iPhoto is being replaced with the new cross-platform Photos app, and the iWork branding is rarely used to describe the company’s productivity suite. Also note that it’s “Apple Pay” and not “iPay,” which sounds tacky. What I’d really like to see is the iMac name dropped from the next redesign of the all-in-one Macintosh. A fresh design with a name hearkening back to 1984: “The Mac.” (“Mac Pro” would remain for the Xeon-class workstation.)
Though we’re still in the early stages of Apple Pay, I think Apple is planning to leverage those same strengths to create another uncopyable billion-dollar service. Consider what else Tim Cook mentioned during his prepared statement on last week’s earnings call:
There’s also been incredible interest in HealthKit, with over 600 developers now integrating it into their apps. Consumers can now choose to securely share their health and wellness metrics with these apps, and this has led to some great new and innovative experiences in fitness and wellness, food and nutrition, and healthcare. For example, with apps such as American Well, users can securely share data such as blood pressure, weight, or activity directly with physicians. And leading hospitals such as Duke Medicine, Stanford Children’s, and Penn Medicine are integrating data from HealthKit into their electronic medical records so that physicians can reach out to patients proactively when they see a problem that needs attention. With HealthKit and the iOS Health app, we believe we’re just at the beginning of amazing new health and wellness solutions for our customers.
In other words, Apple is laying the requisite foundations today to announce a healthcare service tomorrow. It’s building relationships with key players, enabling third party hardware innovation through HealthKit, getting people comfortable with iPhones as health repositories, and in the secure enclave and Touch ID, Apple already has a method to store and share healthcare data securely.
Over the next few years, Apple will add more sensors to the iPhone and Apple Watch that can be used to measure your health, and third-party medical accessories designed for use with iOS devices will continue to grow in popularity. The healthcare industry will salivate for the resulting data.
As Richman notes, healthcare is a $2,900,000,000,000 industry. Anyone who can make a device to function as the front man and facilitator for that industry stands to make a lot of money.
You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands. If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.
As an Electronic Frontier Foundation activist pointed out earlier today, via Twitter, the concept of a TV screen that might be snooping on your private conversations — and thus broadcasting a chilling effect by inculcating self-censorship within its viewers — is straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.
I’ve been happily using “Hey, Siri” to give instructions to my iPhone since the feature debuted last year, having it do everything from change music playlists to send messages to my wife. So maybe you think I’m the wrong guy to criticize Samsung’s voice commands.
But: iOS devices listen for spoken commands only when plugged in to a power source, and each command must be prefaced with “Hey, Siri.” From there, iOS anonymizes and encrypts your voice command before sending it only to a first party — Apple’s Siri servers. Apple never receives any personal data directly, much less some unnamed third party.
To recap: Siri only listens when plugged in, you must wake her with a specific voice command, no third party is given your data, and your data is sent anonymously and protected by encryption. That’s a whole lot of protection going on.
If the SmartTV owner does realize how ridiculous this is, Samsung does at least allow them to disable the eavesdropping voice recognition ‘feature’, and instead use a more limited set of predefined ‘voice commands’ — and in that instance says it does not harvest their spoken words.
However it will still gather usage info and any other text-based inputs for data mining purposes, as it also notes further down in the policy. So an entire opt-out of being tracked is not part of this very expensive package. [Emphasis added]
RadioShack Corp. is preparing to shut down the almost-century-old retail chain in a bankruptcy deal that would sell about half its store leases to Sprint Corp. and close the rest, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
The locations sold to Sprint would operate under the wireless carrier’s name, meaning RadioShack would cease to exist as a stand-alone retailer, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public.
The negotiations could still break down without a deal being reached, or the terms could change. Sprint and RadioShack also have discussed co-branding the stores, two of the people said. It’s also possible that another bidder could emerge that would buy RadioShack and keep it operating, the people said.
RadioShack had its time, and served millions of us (me included) very well during that time. It had a great mix of nerdy products and nerdy expertise — at a location usually not very far from you. But now I can get an even wider selection of nerdy stuff, and even nerdier expertise, without ever leaving the comfort of my desk chair. With one exception of when I just had to have a headphone minijack-to-RCA-left-right-splitter, I don’t think I’ve set foot inside a RadioShack since the end of the 20th century. And it just isn’t possible to keep a retail chain going on once-in-a-decade purchases of $2 cables.
Radio Shack — even the name shouts “1933!” — was the 20th century’s nerd shopping Mecca, but the 20th century is long over.
The California Department of Public Health has decided — no joke here — that e-cigarets are “a community health threat.” Reason’s Jacob Sullum reports:
The report includes the same lame claims that people who hate vaping for subrational reasons tend to offer when they try to justify their gut reactions to products that offend them mainly because they look too much like the real thing. There is the purported epidemic of poisonings involving children whose parents fail to keep e-cigarette fluid out of reach, the absurd insistence that candy or fruit flavors must be aimed at children because they could not possibly appeal to adults, the worry that vaping will encourage teenagers to smoke by making it seem cool again or by getting them hooked on nicotine (even though smoking among teenagers has reached record lows as experimentation with e-cigarettes has risen dramatically), and the warning that e-cigarette vapor, despite very low levels of just a few problematic substances, may pose a threat to bystanders because no one has conclusively proven that it doesn’t. Generally speaking, these claims amount to unsubstantiated speculation or an alarmist spin on actual facts. But at least one crucial statement in the report is simply false: “There is no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers successfully quit traditional cigarettes.”
It would be fair to say there is not a lot of scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in helping smokers quit (although the testimony of former smokers surely should count for something). But there is some evidence.
Read the whole thing.
My only experience with e-cigarettes is my friend Matt, who had tried and failed in every attempt to quit smoking. Now he vapes instead of smokes, and enjoys the pleasures nicotine provides but without all the lung damage, coughing, cancer risk, etc. To me, that’s a big plus. And as a former smoker myself, the only reason I’ve never tried vaping is that I’m afraid the busybodies like those in California will eventually succeed in getting e-smokes banned. But it sure is tempting, because there’s nothing like a mild nicotine buzz with that first morning cup of coffee, or with a snifter of brandy after a big meal.
So why all the fuss from the busybodies? My best guess is that people are enjoying themselves doing something which the busybodies didn’t pre-approve — a major stumbling block on the road to that happy place where everything which isn’t compulsory is forbidden.
Apple told Wall Street to expect total sales somewhere in the range of $63.5 to $66.5 billion — representing, at the midpoint, 15% growth from fiscal Q1 2014.
Analysts aren’t buying it. They saw the lines for the new iPhones. They’ve seen IDC’s Mac numbers. They know iPad sales haven’t totally died. They watched Apple shift production to meet demand for the larger — and higher margin — iPhone 6 Plus.
They’re expecting a big quarter.
The consensus among the analysts Fortune polled — 20 professionals and 15 amateurs — is that Apple’s total sales for fiscal Q1 2015 will come in at about $68.3 billion, up 21% year over year.
Are you familiar with Waze? It’s a smartphone app, which my wife turned me on to a year or two ago, which crowdsources traffic information. There’s not much use for it here in Monument, Colorado (“Teeming city of tens!”), but I keep it installed for shopping & drinking excursions to Denver, or for road trips to anywhere. It’s well designed, it works in realtime, and I’ve avoided some serious snarls with small kids in car — which by itself elevates Waze to “priceless.” Google, which is pretty smart about these kinds of products, bought the company in 2013 — but it’s handy enough that I don’t mind occasionally letting Google data-mine me about my driving habits.
Sheriffs are campaigning to pressure Google Inc. to turn off a feature on its Waze traffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They say one of the technology industry’s most popular mobile apps could put officers’ lives in danger from would-be police killers who can find where their targets are parked.
Waze, which Google purchased for $966 million in 2013, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking. Fifty million users in 200 countries turn to the free service for real-time traffic guidance and warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.
To Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy sheriff in Southern California, Waze is also a stalking app for law enforcement.
There are no known connections between any attack on police and Waze, but law enforcers such as Kopelev are concerned it’s only a matter of time.
After long and determined resistance, I was recently persuaded to open a Facebook account. I did so for two reasons: to see what the fuss was all about; and as a means of publicizing my books, articles and music. I have been on Facebook for a month or so and have come to regret my decision. It is a snare and a delusion, a pseudo-world we mistake for an actual community, and, for the most part, a waste of time. What’s more, for a brief period, it became a source of nuptial contention.
I rarely quarrel with my wife, but the other evening found us embroiled in a heated donnybrook about the value of Facebook. I had watched her growing increasingly more absorbed in an exchange with a shadowy and irritating figure by the name of Michael over the war between the West and an insurgent Islam. Neither could persuade the other. Janice’s argument was logical, evidence-based, and limpidly expressed, demonstrating that Islam was the scourge of the contemporary world. “Michael” fell back on the usual pabulum regarding Western colonial depredations and “root causes,” to the utter exclusion of historical fact and theological compulsion. There was nothing to be gained by this collision of intractables, but I could see post leading to counter-post leading to counter-counter-post ad vomitatum while the clock ticked on and evening darkened into night.
Janice is a scholar, teacher and writer with far more serious desiderata to attend to than devoting time to the fruitless commerce of incompatible ideas, while a host of flitting cyber-migrants weigh in with approvals and disapprovals. After yet another burst of keyboard clatter, I told her so. Why was she allowing an unknown acquaintance to invade our evening? What was he to us that he should monopolize our time with his all-too predictable blather? She contended that Facebook offered certain advantages, enabling one to connect with others in often useful relationships; and besides, she was honing her rhetorical skills—skills, be it said, which she already owned in abundance. (Some PJM readers may recall her lucid articles on the state of modern education.)
I responded that she was behaving like an Avon lady trying to justify a cosmetic lotion as a spiritual balm and could surely use her time more productively. Worse than that, Facebook involved an actual cheapening of discourse, a vulgarizing of the notion of debate or conversation that was detrimental both intellectually and personally. She thought my rhetoric inflated; I thought her incomprehension disconcerting. After some bickering that threatened to get out of hand, I eventually conceded, like an imperial but benevolent phallocrat, that she might spend a maximum of 15 minutes a day facing that benthic leviathan and matrimonial rival called Facebook. Sensibly, she agreed and domestic spats over Facebook are now a thing of the past. Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.
In the course of our dispute, I was forced to articulate my objections. The following three seemed to me comprehensive:
First, Facebook is essentially a marketing instrument masking as a communal network. It is especially useful to authors and others who wish to promote their work to an ever-growing population of subscribers; in this function it clearly excels. But it does not comprise a genuine fellowship of individuals in a socially intimate relationship. It flatters us with the shared illusion of being part of an extended family, of keeping in touch with humanity at large, of participating in a great conversation with our fellow man. In reality, genuine intimacy is rare, occurring in personal encounters and privileged correspondence, and generally on a modest scale.
Facebook consists of a colony of lay pietists who exchange, in many if not most cases, mere trifles and ephemerae—photos of self or pets, jokes and videos, transient notions prior to evaporation, bulletins of recent events, plans for the future, and so on—in short, items of negligible significance. At a somewhat more elevated level, postulants engage in debate over the critical issues of the day or post articles or meditations dealing with cherished themes, on the assumption that a series of desultory posts will effect positive change in the world. In fact, though, Facebook’s community is not even skin deep and is far less influential than its communicants seem to think.
Facebook is an indulgence, the higher ham radio. Apart from klatching with acquaintances, for which email, texting and phone serve more discreetly, we come away with the conviction that something of importance has happened, bosom contact with a stranger, leaving us with the consoling impression that we are now members of a viable community when, in truth, we know next to nothing of each other. With every post, the concentric circle of confidential strangers ripples outward in Facebook-space, forming a society of interlopers and ghostly outriders relieving themselves of their infatuations and riding their hobby-horses. It operates rather in the manner of anonymous sex, with much excited congress yielding no abiding or meaningful bond.
Which brings me to my second reason for disliking Facebook. The hours poured into a spectral traffic of largely reciprocal inanities—or, at best, an open correspondence in which we insert ourselves into one another’s phantom lives as semiotic pseudopods and screenal projections—could be far more profitably invested in elaborating our ideas, to quote Milton’s Areopagitica, “in the still and quiet air of delightful studies,” that is, in real thought and disciplined practice with a view to their propagation in reputable outlets. Nor should we delude ourselves into believing that Facebook is only a pleasant diversion, a form of relaxation or entertainment requiring only a few minutes a day between household tasks and intellectual demands. Far from it. The hours accumulate like bad debts. Facebook resembles a giant kraken or monstrous squid out of Jules Verne, rising from the murky depths to grapple, crush and devour an unsuspecting frigate with somewhere else to go.
The third reason for my skepticism is the Facebook lexicon. Where is the “face” in Facebook, since an immediate affinity of persons is face to face and not to be found in fleeting affectations of proximity, of “faceness”? And where is the “book” in a concatenation of volatile posts? Again, to cite the Areopagitca, “A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on a purpose to a life beyond life.” A good book, to be sure, but a book nevertheless, for books “contain a potency of life in them [preserving] the living intellect that bred them.” Facebook’s book, however, is mainly a diary of expendable observations or, say, a Moleskine jotter that does not, tant pis, transform a tourist into a Hemingway or Chatwin.
Moreover, Facebook is literally crawling with “friends” who “like” one another, “like” various posts and utterances, and even invite one another to “like” their pages or organizations. This use of language is absurd, irresponsible and, indeed, misleading. In my experience, friends don’t come cheaply or often, and I use the word with great circumspection. Of course, one can employ the word as a phatic interjection, as when one writes “friend” or “my friend” in a line of text or a song, but this is intended as rhetorical packing to fill out a beat or cadence, or to convey a sense of poetic, discursive or ironic address. And turning the noun into a verb—“to friend” or “to unfriend”—is certainly an interesting quirk of grammar to which the English language is flexibly prone, which poet e.e. cummings famously exploited in developing his trademark syntax and diction. But to bandy the word about as if it meant something that it doesn’t, reminiscent of the character Jack Hodgins in the TV series Bones who enthusiastically celebrated his 500th “friend,” is both ludicrous and demeaning. “Friend” is a word we should use sparingly, just as a friend is someone we should honor.
Something similar applies to the word “like.” Obviously, as a conjunction or preposition, it runs through caverns measureless to man, in particular punctuating the speech of functional illiterates. But as a verb, it betokens an affection or considered endorsement or mark of esteem; as a mere click on a key to indicate reception of a message or an empty gesture of pro forma recognition, it is just plain silly. Indeed, social media on the whole trade in vacuous phraseology. What self-respecting person would want to be part of Twitter—is that where twits hang out?— hunt for hashtags and chirp truncated “tweets” into the world, as if one were a pea-brained chickadee pecking at the feeder rather than a reflective human being in possession of a mind? (No offence intended to the chickadees on my deck, who are quite friendly and likeable.)
In summation, I dislike Facebook because it trades in false intimacy, is chronophagous, and is a serial perverter of language. Even 15 minutes a day can be excessive, leading by increments to a dangerous addiction. Its sporadic use for the purpose of cyber-marketing in a worthy cause cannot be entirely faulted, but on the whole: caveat internettor.
Expectations for the iPhone on Wall Street are high, as hardly a day goes by without another sign that Tim Cook made the right call when he decided to go after the oversized phone market that Samsung once owned.
On Wednesday, for example, Counterpoint Research reported that Apple’s market share in November grew to 12% in China, 51% in Japan and 33% in Korea — Samsung’s home turf.
“No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20% market share mark in the history of Korea’s smartphone industry,” said Counterpoint’s Tom Kang in the company blog.
So it really is true that everybody loves the big phones other than me. But not once when I was slipping my phone into my pocket did I think, “You know what? This could be bigger, maybe even lots bigger.” And don’t get me started on phablets, which seem like either buying a Subaru Brat when you need a full-size pickup truck, or like strapping a grandfather clock on your wrist to tell the time.
There’s one place where Apple is kinda-sorta-nearly competing somewhere adjacent to the low end, and that’s in the market for sub-$1000 laptops. The company’s 11″ MacBook Air got a price cut last year to “just” $899 retail, and that seems to be paying off:
Apple sold a record 5.75 million Macs in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, an increase of 19% that beat the overall industry by a wide margin, IDC said Monday.
In a preliminary estimate, IDC pegged Apple’s sales for 2014′s fourth quarter at 5.75 million, a record for a three-month period. According to IDC, Apple sold 4% more Macs than the previous quarter, currently the record.
If U.S. retail sales are any guide, the Mac’s jump came primarily from its lower-priced laptop, the MacBook Air. “Apple had about a third of all notebook sales below $1,000 in the 14 weeks of the fourth quarter,” said Stephen Baker, analyst with the NPD Group, another research firm. “That number was only 8% in 2013.”
When a company can swoop into the highest-price segment of the low-price market and immediately grab a third of it, then they must be doing something right.