April 7, 2014

It Was 50 Years Ago Today

That IBM introduced System/360. Just in case that simple statement doesn't strike you with awe, here's a 5-minute video made for the 40th anniversary to give you some perspective.

From System/360 we got 8-bit bytes. The least expensive version of the 360 came with 4K of RAM as core memory. This is a piece of core memory with a capacity of 1K bits (not bytes).

permalink | April 7, 2014 at 08:00 PM | Comments (0)

April 1, 2014

More Wi-Fi!

The FCC has decided to open up 100 MHz of spectrum for wi-fi, a 15% increase. But the government giveth and the government taketh away. Honest, hardworking 'muricans will not be permitted to crank their new frequencies of wi-fi up to a power level so high that it interferes with satellites, which use some of those frequencies. How then, I ask you, will we be able to get wi-fi at the Starbucks on the moon, huh? Didn't think of that, did they.

Our federal government tantalizes us with stories of 1Gbps connections.

permalink | April 1, 2014 at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2014

Commercial Drone Deliveries

QuiQui says they will start [no date specified] delivery of drugstore items (even prescription drugs) by drone in the Mission District in San Francisco. You will place your order via smartphone. When the drone arrives with your delivery it will signal your phone, you will walk outside, and with your smartphone order the drone to drop your delivery. "Drop it, drop it boy!" The drones will never fly lower than 20 feet, so either the drugstore will pack it so it can land without breaking, or you will catch it on the way down.

The only prank thing that I can think of right now for this system is to spot someone sitting outside who looks like they'll stay put for a while. Either sidewalk dining or a homeless guy on the sidewalk is what I'm thinking of. Phone in an order for something nice - candy maybe. When the drone arrives above that person, it calls your phone and you order it to drop the load. Do it right and it could be a sort of automatic piƱata thing.

Or when there's one of those big street fairs going on (like Folsom), you could have drones dropping all kinds of fun stuff all over the place.

permalink | March 17, 2014 at 12:42 AM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2014

Google Docs Add-ons

If you use Google Docs/Drive (same thing, different names) then you may want to know they now offer Add-ons. The Google blog says to open "any document or spreadsheet" to find the Add-ons menu. I've found that isn't quite true. In fact, I can open any of the many documents I have on Google Drive and there is no Add-ons menu. I think what they meant to say is open any document or spreadsheet that is in Google's format, whatever that is. If I click "Create" I get blank spreadsheet that must be in Google format. It's got an Add-ons menu.

One for you to look for is Mapping Sheets. With this you enter a list of addresses on a spreadsheet and then it can pin all of those addresses on a Google map. This is way, way easier than trying to do it manually with a Google map.

permalink | March 13, 2014 at 08:51 PM | Comments (0)


FLAC is Free Lossless Audio Codec which is used for lossless audio compression. MP3, the most popular audio compression, is lossy; analogous to jpeg for images which is also lossy. FLAC comes from Xiph.org who also gives us Ogg Vorbis, a lossy audio compression scheme.

But an iPod cannot play FLAC files (or Ogg Vorbis, for that matter). Instead, they can play Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC).

On the scene comes PONO (which seems usually to be all upper-case, even though it's not an acronym). PONO is a portable music player from the Neil Young that will play FLAC files. It will also play ALAC, mp3, WAV, AIFF, and AAC. Besides the hardware they will also create the PONO music store, because iTunes does not offer files in FLAC format.

I know I couldn't hear the difference between an MP3 and any lossless format, but I also know some people can. Here's a video with testimonials to that fact from an impressive list of people who oughtta know (I guess when you're Neil Young these are the kinds of friends you have). I suspect they had a PONO player set up in a classic American car (is that a Mercury we see behind Elton John? wait you get a better view of it behind Jackson Browne - I mean this video is as thick as peanut butter with music celebs) which would not be considered entirely kosher if we were doing a proper double-blind study, but we're not. This is art and they're trying to sell a device, so all's fair. I'd like the opportunity to sit in that Mercury and listen to anything, even AM radio. Anyway, you'll see the descriptions are very similar to those we have heard for analog records played through vacuum tube systems. Also, Neil Young has a classic Cadillac.

I would have liked to have heard from one classical musician; somebody who has spent a lot of time listening to 100% analog music in acoustically ideal spaces.

There's a Kickstarter. Mr. Young set his goal at $800,000 and has raised $2,600,350! They still accept contributions. For $300 you will be permitted to buy a PONO player for $300, which is $99 less than the expected retail price of $399. I see there is a Willie Nelson version that you can get with a $400 pledge. I wonder at the possibility that some of the musicians in that video were enjoying some enhanced listening. Regardless, with a $400 contribution you get a customized celebrity PONO player. Do the arithmetic, this is $200 less than the total expense of the $300 contribution ($300 contribution + $300 PONO player), and for that you get a chrome PONO player laser-engraved with the signature of Willie Nelson (or Tom Petty or James Taylor or Patti Smith or Beck or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Herbie Hancock or others!). The top pledge of $5,000 would have gotten you a dinner and listening party with Neil Young and one night's stay at the Half Moon Bay Ritz Carlton, but those are sold out.

The PONO player will have 64GB of storage plus you can add a microSD card up to 64GB. An iPod Classic holds 160GB. But if you are the sort of person this device is being marketed to, you will not mind carrying a separate (multi-)terabyte USB drive in your car for the portion of your collection of FLAC files that will not fit in 128GB.

There's a discussion here about sources of lossless music. Even if you make an FLAC file from one of your CDs, the quality can be no better than what was on the CD. What you want is access to music that hasn't gone through the CD process yet. Ideally, you'd like the raw data from the recording studio, but you're probably not going to get that. One person suggests "Take a look at hdtracks.com, itrax.com, eclassical.com, and beatport.com for examples."

The PonoPlayer has two output jacks. The first is a normal mini-stereo output specially designed for headphones and is meant for personal listening. The second is a stereo mini-plug analog output specifically designed for listening on your home audio system, in your car...

Can anybody give me a clue as to what a "normal mini-stereo output" and a "stereo mini-plug analog output" are and what their differences might be. Can't find either term here. Searching for both terms at Monoprice doesn't help me. It sounds like, and in the photos it looks like, two 3.5mm output jacks. Period.

permalink | March 13, 2014 at 02:28 PM | Comments (2)

Never Heard Of This Before

Malaysian jet search area
The new search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane
. Now they think it's possible the plane flew for as long as four hours after dropping out of touch. Various theories are offered, but no one seems to have suggested the possibility that the flight crew (or everybody, maybe) died in flight and the plane just stayed on autopilot. It's happened at least once before, but with a smaller plane.

The thing I never heard of before is that the Rolls-Royce engines on this plane (and all Rolls-Royce engines, I guess) gather data about themselves and transmit it to Malaysia Airlines every 30 minutes who then pass it on to Rolls-Royce. I am surprised I never heard of this before, considering this is not the first airplane to seem to have just dropped out of the sky. If this detail had been used as a plot device in a cheap movie or TV show I would have rolled my eyes and groaned, but now that I know it's going on I expect to see whole stories based on these occasional transmissions. Also, Japan wants to know if Rolls-Royce sells engines to China.

CORRECTION: The Wall Street Journal has issued a correction to this story. It's Boeing that has a system that automatically transmits system status information to Boeing. It's left unclarified if Rolls-Royce engines really have the same thing going on, or if it's all rolled into one transmission to Boeing (which makes more sense). Those signals show the Malaysia Airlines jet was in the air for a total of five hours. "All of the people said the transmissions included detailed information about the plane's location, speed and bearing."

permalink | March 13, 2014 at 12:12 PM | Comments (5)

March 6, 2014

Bridge Installation

The MassDOT recently shared this timelapse video showing how they simply installed a new bridge on River Street in Hyde Park in 2012.

With Google streetview you can see what the old bridge was like.

permalink | March 6, 2014 at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2014

Two 4K Phones Coming

The Sony Xperia Z2 has 20.7 MP, 4K and is waterproof. Only 8.2mm thick, weighing 163 grams. It also claims extended battery life, saying it can do up to 19 hours of talk time on a charge.

Samsung Galaxy S5 has 16 MP, 4K and claims to be water resistant. 145 grams, 8.1mm.

The display is limited to 1080p on both cameras.

permalink | February 25, 2014 at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2014

128GB MicroSD

The title is pretty much the whole story. SanDisk pushes the envelope again with a 128GB MicroSD card. Looks like the SRP will be $200. You can get a regular SD card with a capacity of 128GB for as little as $66. But now with a MicroSD card of that size, you will be able to lose many thousands of photos and several hours of video with one little careless moment as you extract the MicroSD card from your device. "Did anybody see where that went?" In the 21st century the MicroSD card fills the role held by contact lenses in the late 20th century: things to be searched for on your hands and knees.

permalink | February 24, 2014 at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

If This Were The Only Smartphone App, It Would Be Sufficient To Justify The Existence Smartphones

SteadyServ Techologies introduces the Keg Sensor app. All hail Keg Sensor!

The SteadyServ keg sensor collects and sends a host of information to users, including how much beer remains, the type and style of the beer in the keg, when it was delivered, when it was tapped, its age, and when the keg may run out. It sends this information to SteadyServ's cloud-based software, where it is paired with other information, such as how much safety stock remains, the next delivery date, previous order information, past consumption trends, event information, beer consumption trends nearby, and even local weather forecasts which may impact patronage trends.

A cross between Keg Sensor and some popular social apps could let you know how much someone who is within a certain radius has been drinking. I would call that app Beer Goggles.

permalink | February 24, 2014 at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)