Posts tagged “technology”

LED lighting: an accelerated learning curve?

News from Samsung (exiting the LED market) and Philips (spinning off their LED division) would seem to indicate rapid learning in the LED space. From Reuters:

Analysts say Samsung Electronics’ retreat reflects the growing competition from Chinese manufacturers even as demand for LED lighting remains strong. LED lamps last 10 times longer than fluorescent bulbs and 100 times longer than traditional incandescent tungsten filament bulbs.

“It appears that Samsung decided to fold the business because price competition was so fierce and there was not a lot of room for growth going forward,” said Seoul-based IM Investment analyst Lee Min-hee.

Philips said in September that it will spin off its lighting business to expand its higher-margin healthcare and consumer divisions. Two month earlier, Germany’s Osram Licht AG , which also makes LED lights, announced a cost-cutting plan that included nearly 8,000 job cuts.

Jason Snell put it best:

So, bad news for Samsung and other businesses betting on big margins for bulbs, but good news for everyone else.

Nicola Twilley's The Coldscape

Nicola Twilley, writing at Cabinet Magazine:

More than three-quarters of the food consumed in the United States today is processed, packaged, shipped, stored, and sold under artificial refrigeration. The shiny, humming stainless steel box in your kitchen is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak—a tiny fragment of the vast global network of temperature-controlled storage and distribution warehouses cumulatively capable of hosting uncounted billions of cubic feet of chilled flesh, fish, or fruit. Add to that an equally vast and immeasurable volume of thermally controlled space in the form of shipping containers, wine cellars, floating fish factories, international seed banks, meat-aging lockers, and livestock semen storage, and it becomes clear that the evolving architecture of coldspace is as ubiquitous as it is varied, as essential as it is overlooked.

Fascinating read. Good summary and follow up by Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic. The Center for Land Use Interpretation has an exhibit with Twilley called “PERISHABLE: AN EXPLORATION OF THE REFRIGERATED LANDSCAPE OF AMERICA” featuring many of the places Twilley has visited and including a pretty neat interactive app of some of the key cold-storage sites throughout the US.

And, from January of 2013, listen to a Here and Now story with Twilley about this work.

'Don't Be Evil' my ass: Google hosts fundraises for climate denier

From the Guardian:

The Lunch, at the company's Washington office, will benefit the Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, who has made a career of dismissing climate change as a "hoax" on the Senate floor.

Proceeds of the 11 July lunch, priced at $250 to $2,500, will also go to the national Republican Senatorial Committee.

It's the second show of support from Google for the anti-climate cause in recent weeks.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that the internet company had donated $50,000 for a fundraising dinner for the ultra-conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute � topping the contributions even of the Koch oil billionaires.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has launched multiple law suits aimed at trying to discredit the science behind climate change � accusing scientists of fraud. None have so far succeeded.

The CEI also specialises in filing open records requests, demanding universities turn over email correspondence of climate scientists with journalists.

Facebook also contributed $25,000 to the CEI dinner last month.

Google responded:

... a company spokesperson noted that Google maintained data centres in Oklahoma. The spokesperson then sent an email saying: "We regularly host fundraisers for candidates, on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn't mean we endorse all of their positions. And while we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma."

Wired's 20th Anniversary

Wired Magazine is 20 years old. They write:

In his very first editor’s letter, Louis Rossetto wrote, “There are a lot of magazines about technology. WIRED is not one of them. WIRED is about the most powerful people on the planet today: the Digital Generation.” On this, our 20th anniversary, the time has come to reflect on this generation of leaders, thinkers, and makers. These people, their companies, and their ideas have shaped the future we live in today. Below, we’ve gathered stories for, by, and about the people who have shaped the planet’s past 20 years—and will continue driving the next.

I remember when it came out, distinctly marking me as old. I also vividly remember being excited when that iconic, thick, heavy slab arrived in the mail - for years in Louisiana and then throughout college. They’ve got a number of good features looking back, including a nice historical piece; a piece by Jason Kottke about kottke.org; and a fun, old picture of Steve Jobs, captioned simply “Remembering a Legend” (attached below).

They also interviewed Bill Gates, a different kind of legend, who had some great quips throughout his interview.

20 years ago we had the idea that information could become available at your fingertips. We got that done. Now everyone takes it for granted that you can look up movie reviews, track locations, and order stuff online. I wish there was a way we could take it away from people for a day so they could remember what it was like without it.

We need a malaria epidemic in the blogging community! Either that or we need people who have seen the malaria epidemic to start blogging. Seriously, we have two communities that don’t intersect with each other. One is about a billion and a half people—families, children—who live in malaria-prone areas. The others are living pretty nice lives, and it’s great. If the malaria epidemic was nearby, this stuff would be very prominent.

People doing innovative work in technology are making a huge contribution—they don’t have to feel bad about it. But if they make enough money, they should give some of it away to causes that they personally develop a connection to. If they can have an awareness about global poverty and disease, that’d be great. Twenty years ago, I didn’t have much awareness about those things. But in 1993, Melinda and I took a trip to Africa and made the decision to focus mostly on global health.

A robust, low-cost particle monitor and data platform for evaluation of cookstove performance

Johnson M, Pillarisetti A, Allen T, Charron D, Pennise D, Smith KR. A robust, low-cost particle monitor and data platform for evaluation of cookstove performance. EPA Air Sensors 2013: Data Quality & Applications. Research Triange Park, NC: March 18-19, 2013.

forecast.io

Beautiful new service from the creators of Dark Sky. A number of cool things about it, including its beautiful visualizations and use of data from around the globe. Particularly, the developers note:

We’ve gathered hour-by-hour observations from tens of thousands of ground stations world-wide, in some places going back a hundred years. We expose it as a sort of “time machine” that lets you explore the past weather at any given location. We’ve also used the data to develop statistical forecasts for any day in the future. For example, say you have an outdoor family reunion in 6 months: with the time machine, you can see what the likely temperature and precipitation will be at the exact day and hour.

Their API sounds good, too, though I haven’t taken the plunge on that yet.

Now that we’ve developed a general-purpose weather API, we’re trying to compete with the other weather APIs available around the Internet. We’ve found those APIs to be difficult and clunky to use, so we’ve tried to make our API as streamlined as possible: you can sign up for a developer account without needing a credit card, and start making requests right away—you can worry about payment information when your app is ready. Additionally, we’ve lowered our prices so that we’re competitive with the other data providers out there.

Via DF

Steve Jobs's Parable of the Stones

But what I’ve always felt is that a team of people doing something they really believe in is like… When I was a young kid there was a widowed man that lived up the street. He was in his eighties. He was a little scary looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he may have paid me to mow his lawn or something.

And one day he said to me, “come on into my garage, I want to show you something.” And he pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, “Come on with me.” We went out into the back and we got just some rocks. Some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and a little bit of grit powder, and we closed the can up and he turned this motor on and he said, “Come back tomorrow.”

And this can was making a racket as the stones went around.

And I came back the next day, and we opened the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in — and through rubbing against each other like this, creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise — had come out these beautiful polished rocks.

That’s always been in my mind as a metaphor for a team working really hard on something they’re passionate about. It’s that through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together, they polish each other and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these really beautiful stones.

The Internet, a series of tubes.

Google’s data center doors flung open earlier this week. And, somehow, it looks remarkably like Ted Stevens’ often-teased quotation about the internet being nothing but “a series of tubes.”

click here to see many more photos from Google’s data centers

Obviously, that’s not the whole of it. The tubes, the languages, the infrastructure all come together, a weird amalgamation of technologies that gives rise to our internet, a sum that transcends the somewhat mundane parts. Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, said the following in an interview with Terry Gross:

The Internet is absolutely made of tubes. What else could it be made of? It’s many other things — these protocols and languages and machines and a whole set of fantastically complex layers and layers of computing power that feeds the Internet every day. But if you think of the world in physical terms, and you’re trying to be as reductive as possible and try to understand what this is, there’s no way around it — these are tubes. And from the very first moment, from the basement of a building in Milwaukee to Facebook’s high-tech, brand-new data center, and along the ceiling and the walls, are these steel conduits. But I know a tube when I see one.

A couple of days ago, Wired published a piece by Steven Levy about Google’s data centers. Levy was one of the first non-essential Google staff to visit the center, and his report is pretty astonishing. Google’s built a lot of their own infrastructure in an attempt to meet two important standards — speed and energy efficiency.

All of these innovations helped Google achieve unprecedented energy savings. The standard measurement of data center efficiency is called power usage effectiveness, or PUE. A perfect number is 1.0, meaning all the power drawn by the facility is put to use. Experts considered 2.0—indicating half the power is wasted—to be a reasonable number for a data center. Google was getting an unprecedented 1.2.

For years Google didn’t share what it was up to. “Our core advantage really was a massive computer network, more massive than probably anyone else’s in the world,” says Jim Reese, who helped set up the company’s servers. “We realized that it might not be in our best interest to let our competitors know.”

Make no mistake, though: The green that motivates Google involves presidential portraiture. “Of course we love to save energy,” H�lzle says. “But take something like Gmail. We would lose a fair amount of money on Gmail if we did our data centers and servers the conventional way. Because of our efficiency, we can make the cost small enough that we can give it away for free.”

thanks to Charlotte K. for sharing Levy’s article + the photos

Michael Lopp / Rands in Repose: "The future is invented by the people who don't give a shit about the past."

Your success is delicious. Others look at your success and think, “Well, duh, it’s so obvious what they did there - anyone can do that” and, frustratingly so, they’re right. Your success has given others a blueprint for what success looks like, and while, yes, the devil’s in the details, you have performed a lot of initial legwork for your competition in the process of becoming successful.

More bad news via metaphors. Your enticing success has your competition chasing you, and that means that, by definition, that they need to run harder and faster than you so they can catch up. Yes, many potential competitors are going to bungle the execution and vanish before they pose a legitimate threat but there’s a chance someone will catch up, and when they do, what’s their velocity? Faster than yours.

Shit.

The reward for winning is the perception that you’ve won. In your celebration of your awesomeness, you are no longer focused on the finish line, you now lack a clear next goal, and while you sit there comfortably monetizing eyeballs, you’re becoming strategically dull. You’ve forgotten that someone is coming to eat you and if you want until you can see them coming, you’re too late.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

via Daring Fireball.

Tim Kreider on Ray Bradbury

…it is worth pausing, on the occasion of Ray Bradbury’s death, to notice how uncannily accurate was his vision of the numb, cruel future we now inhabit.

Mr. Bradbury’s most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” features wall-size television screens that are the centerpieces of “parlors” where people spend their evenings watching interactive soaps and vicious slapstick, live police chases and true-crime dramatizations that invite viewers to help catch the criminals. People wear “seashell” transistor radios that fit into their ears. Note the perversion of quaint terms like “parlor” and “seashell,” harking back to bygone days and vanished places, where people might visit with their neighbors or listen for the sound of the sea in a chambered nautilus.

Mr. Bradbury didn’t just extrapolate the evolution of gadgetry; he foresaw how it would stunt and deform our psyches. “It’s easy to say the wrong thing on telephones; the telephone changes your meaning on you,” says the protagonist of the prophetic short story “The Murderer.” “First thing you know, you’ve made an enemy.”

Anyone who’s had his intended tone flattened out or irony deleted by e-mail and had to explain himself knows what he means. The character complains that he’s relentlessly pestered with calls from friends and employers, salesmen and pollsters, people calling simply because they can. Mr. Bradbury’s vision of “tired commuters with their wrist radios, talking to their wives, saying, ‘Now I’m at Forty-third, now I’m at Forty-fourth, here I am at Forty-ninth, now turning at Sixty-first” has gone from science-fiction satire to dreary realism.

“It was all so enchanting at first,” muses our protagonist. “They were almost toys, to be played with, but the people got too involved, went too far, and got wrapped up in a pattern of social behavior and couldn’t get out, couldn’t admit they were in, even.”

What Lies Beneath the New York Times?

Fascinating short piece by Claire O’Neill about the man responsible for the NYT Archives — and the archives themselves. I got a little kick out of Claire taking a photo, with Instagram, of a picture of William Faulkner taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Worlds colliding, a bit — a quick snapshot of an old print filed away underground in an antiquated fashion. (Also, Faulkner slays, even in a photo of a photo. Slays).

By the numbers: It’s 4,000 cabinet drawers of newspaper clips, according to Roth, and 5 to 6 million photographic prints and contact sheets, cross-referenced by card catalogs made on typewriters and amended by hand. The scope is downright unfathomable, the system impossibly antiquated.

Some of the photos from the archive are now being resurrected and uploaded to a fantastic Tumblr run by NYT called The Lively Morgue.

According to the Lively Morgue, “if we posted 10 new archival pictures every weekday on Tumblr, just from our print collection, we wouldn’t have the whole thing online until the year 3935.”

Beamer for Mac

Beamer’s tag line sums it up: “Play any movie file directly via Apple TV.” A bargain at $7. Drop AVIs, MKVs, etc on Beamer and it shoots them over to your AppleTV. Started an mkv movie and watched an episode of TV using it — works like a charm. All it needs is some volume control and it’ll be golden.

Jason Snell / Macworld: Tim Cook at All Things D

Jason Snell did an amazing job covering Tim Cook’s interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at this year’s All Things D conference. My favorite bits from Tim are below - secretive on products, opening up on all the other important stuff.

Tim: We’re going to double down on secrecy on products. I’m serious. However, there’s going to be other things where we’re going to be the most transparent company on the world. Like social change. Supplier responsibility. What we’re doing for the environment. We think that transparency is important in these areas, and if we are, other people will copy us.

In the past we did an annual report and that was our method of transparency. Did we do more than others? I think most people would say yes. Our actions were clearly much more. But our communication was once per year. Now we’re putting out monthly reports. We want everyone to know what we’re doing, and we hope people copy us.

Kara: Assess the China situation. You have many critics, not just fictional ones.

Tim: We decided over a decade ago that there were things we could do better than anyone else, and those things we could do ourselves. And other things, other people could do those better than we can… manufacturing was one of those. The operational expertise and engineering and supply chain mgt, Apple does all of that. But manufacturing, we said, you know, other people can do that as well as we can.

Walt: Is that still true?

Tim: I think it’s still true. We went through a lot of effort in taking overtime down. It’s hard, it’s complex. Some people want to work a lot. Some people want to work a whole lot because they want to move and work for a year or two and bring back as much money as they can to their village. We took a position to say we want to bring this down. We’re measuring working hours for 700,000 people. I don’t know who else is doing this. And we’re reporting it. It’s almost like the labor report that the U.S. puts out.

Walt: There’s been a lot of attention in the last month to revival of manufacturing in the US, WSJ today had a piece about wages in US being relatively attractive. You used to have factories in the US. Do you ever see the possibility? You’re a huge company, the most influential company in tech. One of the most in any industry. Will there be an Apple product ever made in the US?

Tim: I want there to be. This isn’t well known, but the engine for the iPhone and the iPad are built in the US, not just for the US but the world. The glass for your iPhone is made in a plant in Kentucky, not just for the US but other markets outside the US. so I think there are things that can be done in the US, not just for the US, but exported for the world

People focus on the final assembly, because that’s the part where people look at it and say that’s an iPhone, they don’t think of all the parts underneath that add significant value. So on assembly, could it be done in the US? I hope so some day. The tool and die maker skill in the US began to go down in the 60s and 70s. How many tool and die makers do you know now? We couldn’t fill a room. In China you’d need several cities.

So there has to be a fundamental change in the education system, to bring back some of this. But there are things that we can do. The semiconductor industry is fantastic in the US. The Corning deal with glass in Kentucky, this is fantastic. So we will do as many of these as we can do.

And we will use the whole of our influence [so] that we can do it.

Backblaze, External Drives, & Obfuscation

FOUND: Advanced Mac Help for Online Backup -- addresses specifically the Spotlight issue and how to force Backblaze to rescan for external drives.

I love Backblaze. It has worked well for me for the past few years; some recent changes in their version 2.0 product have made it even better.

One thing that's always annoyed me, though, is how long it takes Backblaze to recognize an external drive. This morning, it was nearly instantaneous; last night, the drive sat hooked up but didn't start backing up. No idea why. Plugging and unplugging the drive didn't work. Restarting didn't work. Nothing I did made Backblaze recognize the drive.

I decided to consult their support page on external drives this morning. It had the following outstanding gem (emphasis added):

When an external drive is plugged back in, it may take Backblaze a minute or two hours to schedule the files on the external drive to be backed up online.

A minute or TWO HOURS?

My other complaint is with how external drives are handled for people who travel. Again, from the same page above:

If the drive is detached for more than 30 days, Backblaze interprets this as data that has been permanently deleted and securely deletes the copy from the Backblaze datacenter. The 30 day countdown is only for drives that have been unplugged.

If you are going on vacation for a long time, you can shut down your computer with the external drive attached. Backblaze does not detect that the external drive has been unplugged and won't start the 30-day countdown. You can then leave your computer off and unplug your external drive for six months, and Backblaze will still keep all your files backed up including those on your external drive. When you come back from vacation, make sure to plug your external drive back in 30 days from after you turn your computer on.

I travel a fair amount for my doctoral research -- and increasingly to India, Nepal, and Guatemala. On occasion, I'm gone for well over a month. My options, seemingly, are to lose my online backup (of all my photos, video, and data) or leave my computer off while gone. Neither are satisfactory.

I can understand the decisions they have made -- they don't want to host terabytes of people's data without need; they're not additional storage capacity for people -- but, for me, this makes things difficult and annoying. My primary machine is a 2011 MacBook Air. It is simply not possible to take all my files with me; I've got a few hundred gigabytes of photography and documentary work backed up to multiple locations in my apartment, but I'd love to have them somewhere offsite and presumably safer. I could purchase a small portable drive and take it everywhere, but that seems unnecessary and no more secure (could lose the drive, drop the drive, etc).

A final niggle -- MDSworker and MDS go nuts on the /Library/Backblaze directory. It needs to be manually added to the "Prevent Spotlight from searching these locations" pane in System Preferences. Seems like this could be automated during the install / first run process.

I'm not switching services -- I don't think there's a better alternative (and yes, I've tried Crashplan -- it caused Java to kick my MBA fans into overdrive all the time, which drove me nuts, and was less reliable). I love Backblaze's native app. Their tech support has been helpful and responsive. Their web interface is snappy, their storage boxes are amazing, and they seem committed to offering a great experience.

All that said, I think the three issues above could be fixed. Two are seemingly related to their software. The final one could be resolved with a tiered pay plan with an additional option that costs more -- but is a bit more flexible and doesn't delete external volumes after 30 days of inactivity.

Jony Ive on Design at Apple

An interview with the London Evening Standard.

What is more difficult is when you are intrigued by an opportunity. That, I think, really exercises the skills of a designer. It's not a problem you're aware of, nobody has articulated a need. But you start asking questions: what if we do this, combine it with that, would that be useful? This creates opportunities that could replace entire categories of device rather than tactically responding to an individual problem. That's the real challenge and very exciting.

Our goal is to create simple objects, objects that you can't imagine any other way. Get it right and you become closer and more focused on the object. For instance, the iPhoto app we created for the new iPad completely consumes you and you forget you are using an iPad.

In my opinion, this is what sets Apple apart. The design has evolved to a point that the product nearly melts away. The hardware that creates the experience has been reduced to the bare minimum. Apple makes the trick seems simple - but, in fact, it is next to impossible. Vision, iteration, and refinement - repeated over and over - has yielded the most intuitive and best technology products we've ever seen.

And unto thee, the white hand of god delivers iPad 2

File it away as possibly incorrect, but I'm guessing that later in the Fall of this year, Apple will drop the 2 from the iPad name and release iPad HD or iPad pro or iPad SOMETHING, marking the first split in this product line. I don't think they'll go iPad 3 -- after all, they declared 2011 the year of the iPad 2.

Update: CLAIM CHOWDAH! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! We're already at iPad (4th generation).

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