New “Pebble Time” Watch Announced

February 24th, 2015

It looks good.

They still seem to understand what a watch is, that it is not a smartphone. They added color, but a low-power version of color. The competition has set themselves up to compete with the brightness of the sun if we were ever to venture outside. Pebble is still avoiding that losing battle. Bravo!

I am worried by the microphone. I fear that is a distraction, that isn’t as useful as we might imagine. Yes, when commuting alone in our cars it might be nice to talk to our watches, maybe while washing dishes, but mostly watches should be seen and not heard and not talked to either. It also might be a battery drain. Be wary, Pebble.

They are claiming the same battery life as before, I would have liked better. Maybe the screen won’t have to be refreshed once-a-second to try to fix display problems, and that will save batteries, but the microphone needs to be listened to to be useful and that takes power.

They did not come up with a self-winding feature, alas.

Price went up, but still well under the competition and I don’t mind Pebble making money. But I won’t be “Oh, sure.” buying one on spec. I’ll have to wait and see. My old Pebble is still a nice watch.

It is not a beautiful watch. Better looking than the first model, but not much.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

Android Car Radio?

February 23rd, 2015

They don’t seem to quite exist yet, but it looks like we are getting close to having nice Android car radios available.

There are car radios with slide out screens, but the ones available domestically are proprietary software that I assume won’t be as good as Android and will cost a lot more for less. I already use my Android tablet kind of hanging from the dash of my car, so any installed unit needs to be as good.

What would I like?

  • A single-din unit, not one of those big double jobs. Single will look less obvious to anyone looking in the window.
  • The radio to be a real radio with a real volume control that will work even when the computer part is, er, being a computer. So the Android part is add-on, let it be a fancy remote control for the radio.
  • FM HD radio, RDS.
  • Radio needs to be good, I want selectivity so I can be parked next to a powerful transmitter and listen to something else. I want it to be sensitive to I can pull in a distant station while near the middle of no where. If the radio wants to be frequency agile and let me see if there is anything on shortwave anymore, that’s okay with me.
  • AM, too.
  • Android. Let me use Google’s maps, or let me choose OsmAnd, or let me buy a Tom Tom product. Let me use other Android software.
  • SIM slot if I want to buy data service from a cell company.
  • Wifi, let it connect through my phone’s wifi, let it connect to my house wifi when I am parked at home if I need to download something big. Let it be a wifi hot spot if I do buy cell data.
  • Bluetooth, let it be a speakerphone for my cellphone, let me stream music from my cellphone through the car speakers.

Sound cool?

-kb

Battling ISIL: For the Hearts and Minds of our own Citizens

September 11th, 2014

Last night President Obama said we will attack ISIL (or ISIS or IS…). Yes, they are extremely nasty, it makes sense to attack people who massacre religious minorities and behead US reporters. Even the Pope agrees that in this case violence must be met with violence. That is the easy part.

But the scariest aspect of ISIL is that they are attractive to citizens from western Europe and the United States. Sure, this is scary because they have our passports, but what should really unnerve us is what it says about our society. We have citizens who are so disaffected that they want to join in on beheadings!?

How is it that we offer these citizens so little that ISIL’s fanaticism is more attractive than what they have at home? Home for them must be pretty horrible.

What we doing about this side of the problem? We need to struggle for the hearts and minds of our own citizens. Instead I fear we will treat them as criminals and further drive them into the welcoming arms of this hateful movement.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

“Digital Quality” and “No Moving Parts”: We Were Tricked!

August 10th, 2014

It used to be that “digital quality” meant “high quality” because going digital was a way to do better what could be done with analog. Consider CDs, they often had very high quality sound. But we were tricked. Now a days “digital quality” is as crappy as the engineers and MBAs decide to make it. Consider Sirius Satellite Radio. Originally it was going to be called CD Radio, because it was “digital quality”, but they quickly realized their mistake. By doing more extreme data compression on the music streams they can fit in many more channels. The result is far, far short of “CD quality”. And God forbid you listen to their all-talk streams. The quality is horrible, makes me want to listen over a telephone circa 1965.

This morning, while doing some laundry I realized I was fooled by “no moving parts” in exactly the same way! I was waiting for a 40-year-old washer to advance to the rinse cycle, watching the old mechanical synchronous motor sequencer, listening to all its noises, wondering how much longer it will last. By reflex I thought “Moving parts! They will wear out faster.”

Ah, how I was tricked. Once upon a time “no moving parts” meant more reliable because it was a way to make something more reliable. But now it means as perishable as engineers and MBAs decide to make it. Our “no moving parts” electronics are made of ephemeral components that have calendar lives independent of whether they are used or abused. Lithium ion batteries are the nastiest examples of this today: they expire in time, no matter how you use them, they are custom molded into our telephones and computers, and they set the end of life for these devices–no matter how well we treat them–forcing us to land-fill our old model and buy a new one. Not just batteries, but flash memory, capacitors, LCD panels, and even LEDs–they all are being used in ways that will fail. Even the plastic cases we put everything in gets brittle and shrinks and discolors and will die.

I have a phone that is around 70-years old, and it could last another 70-years, though there won’t still be a wired phone system to connect it to by then. I have other phones that are just a few years old and are non-functional. From components that expire to wireless standards that have been retired.

My phone that has lasted all these years? It has tons of moving parts and is all analog.

-kb, the Kent who is clearly an old fogy to even ask the question.

©2014 Kent Borg

Late Show, with Stephen Colbert

April 11th, 2014

I couldn’t be more pleased for Stephen Colbert’s being hired to follow David Letterman on the Late Show. Congratulations, sir.

However some people are sad that Stephen Colbert’s character from The Colbert Report will not continue in his new job. I suggest they not worry. Colbert was plenty good on The Daily Show, when he was not playing this character. I think Jon Stewart was telling us the truth when he said Colbert has a lot more “gears” than we have seen. This will be his chance to explore a bunch of them.

But mostly, I think Colbert deserves better. Unlike the very early years on The Colbert Report, he now has a lot of help writing the show, but I still think the man is getting exhausted and needs a break. Maintaining this character all the time has to drain him, and it denies him the refreshment of ever doing anything different.

There is a lot of wonder over what the Late Show will be like “with Stephen Colbert”. I think this is a work-in-progress, but I have some predictions (or, advice):

  • More ensemble. He has already had the ego trip as the headliner of The Colbert Report, he can have more fun (and have less work) if he shares the stage with more talent. Not having to be such an ego-maniac will be a relief for him.
  • More elaborate production values. I admit I am not a regular viewer of the Late Show with David Letterman, but I am under the impression mostly he interviews people. Occasionally they walk outside in Manhattan with a camera, but much beyond that is rare. Colbert’s production budget will go up with this move, and I expect him to produce bigger stuff with it.
  • Stay in New York. I think he likes it there. But that doesn’t mean he won’t travel and take the show with him. His shows from Iraq were a lot of fun. He could travel to more cushy places and make good TV, too.
  • Continue to take plenty of time off. I wish I had his Comedy Central vacation schedule, I suspect he will want to keep it, too. With a bigger ensemble and more elaborate productions, I don’t think the show will fall apart during his absences.

The result will please those of us who wish TV had more Dick Cavett and more Sid Caesar. Luckily we will have move Stephen Colbert.

Stephen: I wish you the best. I hope you enjoy these final months as “Stephen Colbert”, and good luck planning your next gig.

-kb, the Kent who doesn’t even watch much TV.

©2014 Kent Borg

Pebble Watch’s Limitations: They are Key

February 18th, 2014

Maybe it is supposed to be click-bait, or maybe Jared Newman (@OneJaredNewman) is sincerely confused. In his posting on time.com (http://techland.time.com/2014/02/17/my-problem-with-pebble-its-still-too-much-work/) he complains that the Pebble watch is too much work, and “Pebble’s new apps are no easier to reach than the phone in your pocket.”.

He misses the point.

The Pebble watch is not a replacement for his phone, it is an accessory. In fact without a Bluetooth link to a phone it loses most of its value. For anything that your phone is good at, your phone is good at it, and your phone wins!  Use your phone to play games, answer e-mail, read, take pictures, etc.

But there are some things that phones are not so good at. Telling the time, for example. Reaching into my pocket for that is silly. And the temperature: before I had my Pebble watch I found myself looking at my analog watch because I thought the temperature should be there. That was my hint that I should buy one finally.

It is somewhat ironic that phones are not good at telling us who is calling. When I am washing dishes and my Pebble vibrates I and can easily see whether it is my wife calling (dry off my hands and take the call) or not (keep washing dishes).

I mostly don’t like my phone to actually “ring”…you know, make noise when someone is calling. I bring my phone with me when I go places and don’t feel like I have the right to add my ringing to stores, offices, nor movies. I can have the phone vibrate, but I sometimes miss that. A smart watch vibrating, however, is a great way to be alerted that there is a call. Again, ironically, it is better at this than is a phone. Also text messages, breaking news alerts, and the other little alerty things a phone can do, are better suited to a smart watch. It gives me enough information so I know whether it is worth pulling my phone out of my pocket.

Vibrating and caller ID are big features all by themselves. But the phone is still the point. The watch is merely the accessory.

Yes, there are apps for the Pebble, but apply some sense when deciding how to use them!

The Pebblebucks app will let me pay for my coffee, I can pull up the app while waiting in line, and when I get my coffee I can pay with my wrist and use my hands to take my coffee and not be fumbling with my phone or Starbucks card.

I have a stopwatch app that I have used while swimming and I have used it while cooking (“How long have those steaks been on?”). In both cases it is worthwhile to push a few buttons to get to the stopwatch, and then leave it there while I am busy swimming or cooking. These are cases where being on my wrist is key.

There is a nifty looking biking app. I have not tried yet becuase my watch is new and it is winter in Boston, but I expect next summer it will be worth pushing a few buttons to get to it, and then leaving it there as I peddle off. And when I want details about my bike ride at the end of the day? I will pull out my phone, because it is better for focused use, when I have the time, when I have free hands.

Next big election I expect there will be a Pebble app that will give me vote returns. Yes, it will be some effort to find a good app, and some effort to get it working, but then I expect to just leave it there, glancing at it now and then.

For sports fans who can’t watch a big game, putting a sports app on the face–and just leaving it there to sneak peeks at–makes sense. If you can steal a few minutes to get details of the game, don’t use your watch! Grab your phone, or find a TV. (I know a bartender who loves sports, but works at a place with no TV. He might be able to sneak glances if he had a Pebble.)

In each case, the Pebble is good for when I am doing something else. It is a limited little thing that sits on my wrist. That is handy location when I am doing something else and want to be alerted or want to glance at some status, but for anything more involved, it is a cumbersome spot. Better to grab a smartphone.

This is very much like earlier incarnations of a wristwatch, they showed the time. Maybe they had a couple more functions, maybe they could alarm. But that’s it. They occupied very privileged real estate (I have only two wrists), but had limited function suited to that space.

The Pebble watch should be thought of like a traditional watch: it shows status (but many more choices than just time) and can alert (but with many more choices than just an alarm clock). But it is still a wristwatch. It is on my wrist, and it does wrist-suitable stuff. It is not a phone, tablet, nor desktop computer.

The Pebble is a really cool wristwatch. But it is a wristwatch!

-kb

P.S. It is also new, has some rough edges that need improvements, and it is getting improvements. Stay tuned.

©2014 Kent Borg.

Deleted (?) Tweet I Like

January 22nd, 2014

@counternotions tweeted:

I’m not smart enough to know why Windows collapsed, but I know in 2004 you couldn’t do business without it, but in 2014 you absolutely can.


http://twitter.com/counternotions/status/425839478838554624

Very interesting. It might not be completely true, but is it semi-true? Or maybe not quite yet.

-kb

Flies’ Eye Security Cameras

January 20th, 2014

Instead of pan and zoom cameras, cameras should be modeled on flies’ eyes. Multiple little fixed cameras with overlapping fields of view. Each camera is reasonable resolution (and cheap), the whole thing has very high resolution.

No need to steer any motors. Stitching together the images in the camera might save data rates, better quality and greater data compression if stitched first.

-kb, the Kent who hasn’t seen such a thing.

©2014 Kent Borg.

Mandela: I’m Honored to Have Been Alive While He Was

December 5th, 2013

A man of strength, accomplishment, wisdom, and compassion. He certainly suffered, but he had some fun too, and lived long enough for many to consider him something akin to a living saint.

He was controversial, at the peak of the struggle against apartheid, Ronald Reagan and the United States government considered him more a terrorist than hero. I consider him akin to George Washington.

Wow. I am honored to have been on this earth while he was alive.

Thank you, sir.

Bitcoin “Deflationary Spiral”: Any worse than Berkshire Hathaway?

November 27th, 2013

When economists say bitcoin is at risk of a deflationary spiral (people hoarding the limited supply, having little incentive to spend today but always waiting until tomorrow), I wonder whether they are missing two key points?

Not a Monopoly Currency

When a country has an isolated economy and single official currency, the model is different from the environment of bitcoin.  (Economists love pure models that they can analyze, but that aren’t realistic, driving the old joke “reality is a special case”.) There will still be inflationary currencies in a world with bitcoin, just as there are still such currencies in a world where gold exists. Yes, gold acts funny when compared with currencies, and yes, people hoard it, but it still has function as just one of many ways to store wealth.

But gold is cumbersome and not very portable. All the bitcoin in existence could easily fit on a tiny micro SD card.

I guess I am saying that economists have a point, but is it a fatal flaw or just one property of bitcoin?

Slices into Very Thin Traunches

There is a feature of bitcoin that is unique in my knowledge of such things: it can be sliced really thinly.  As I write this 1 bitcoin is nearing a thousand dollars US.  This could be a cumbersomely large value for a more physical currency, but bitcoin can be used in really small fractions. The smallest transaction currently possible is 0.00000001 bitcoin (1 satoshi).  At today’s rough value, a thousandth of a US cent. If the value of bitcoin climbs a thousandfold, this is still just 1 penny.

If someday bitcoin gets to valuable that even this is too large, I am told the protocol could be changed to allow smaller fractions.

I know of no currency nor physical asset that has this property. Only artificially defined financial instruments can do this. (Imagine a derivative BRK.ZZ stock.)

What does this property do to the deflationary spiral, if one can always shave off a smaller and smaller slice to, well, maybe buy a shave?

-kb, the Kent who doesn’t own any bitcoin, yet.

© 2013 by Kent Borg