Codebreaker - Most Commented
Dissing the Disk
There was a "did he really say that?" moment during Apple's big show on Tuesday. Phil Schiller, the company's head of Worldwide Marketing was on stage showing the new iMac, Apple's flagship desktop computer. It is very thin, like you could shave with it thin. So thin that I couldn't help but notice there was no slot for a CD or DVD drive in the thing.
"For those of you stuck in the past," Schiller said, you can buy an external accessory to run your disks. That's a quote: "For those of you stuck in the past." So just to let you know, in a world where companies want us to store all our digital lives on remote corporate computers, the so-called Cloud, it seems to be the fervent hope of some senior computer folks that storage on optical disks is going the way of Victrola.
Retro Tech: We want to hear your stories
I have a third-generation, chunky looking iPod that I keep ticking along through thick and thin. I know how to pry open its case and have changed its hard drive once and its battery twice. Given the culture of upgrades we have in this world, people sitting next to me on airplanes tend to marvel at my iPod’s antiquity. I also have a Speed Graphic press camera from the 1940s that takes big 4-by-5 negatives with aplomb. What do you have?
I ask because I was looking at story in the publication Extreme Tech labeled "Built to Last: Computer Systems that simply cannot fail." The piece lists things like Curiosity, the Mars Rover, that has a computer that should not need help for earth for fifteen years. I asked the author of that article, John Hewitt, an engineer who has worked on satellites and medical equipment, how to make technology fail-safe. Sadly, he said absolute fail-safe can't be done.
Mr. Hewitt then rhapsodized fondly about a computerized milling machine he bought used from Boeing. The unit is from the 1980s and has something called "bubble memory" in it, not even a hard drive. The machine sits by his garage door though every season, sometimes getting damp, sometimes crawling with stinkbugs that seek its warm circuit boards. Fires up every time, Hewitt said.
Don't we all have retro tech that still gets the job done? No, don’t mention a shot glass from 1979 that is still working for you. We're imagining a piece of technology from the past that in your view needs no upgrade.
Xbox Music: Can Microsoft compete with other ecosystems?
Just ahead of the big release of the new Windows 8 operating system, Microsoft is launching something called Xbox Music, initially for the Xbox gaming console.
While you can still buy music by the song, Apple-style, there are other options, like one that lets you pay about $10 a month to listen on-demand to lots of music without ads. All this in a video game machine?
"An important messaging change over the last year was increasingly positioning the Xbox not as a gaming console but as a media hub for consumers," said Michael McGuire, who follows the digital music business for Gartner Research.
Microsoft has a checkered past trying to go after iTunes. You may remember Zune taking the world by storm and vanquishing iTunes for good? Oh, you don't?
Cellphones for all, Microsoft drops $1.8 billion
Two numbers in tech recently struck me. Starting with $1.8 billion, Microsoft is expected to spend that kind of cash promoting its new version of Windows, launching October 26th. The company is opening extra pop-up stores in malls around the country in time for the holidays. Forbes magazine says the marketing budget for Windows 8 will be the most for any product in the history of computers.
Now, another number to chew on: There are now six billion mobile phones in use in a world with seven billion people according to the International Telecommunications Union's annual report. Big jumps in cell phone use in Brazil and parts of sub-saharan Africa are part of this. That's six billion active cell phones -- all those obsolete phones collecting dust with the thumb tacks and rubber bands in the desk drawer don't count.
The Universe: A massive 3D Video Game?
Scientists have developed a test, to check if the universe is really some massive, computer-style simulation like “The Matrix.” To get a handle on the strategy, think 3D video games. Designers build into games the laws of physics. When, for instance, a character drops a grenade, there's simulated gravity so the grenade falls to the ground. In games and other simulations, the rules of the universe are simplified, as if sketched with a thick magic marker that can't render fine detail. If physicists were ever able to spot a similar chunkiness in properties of the universe, then it could be it's all a giant computer simulation.
An inflatable 'Like' vest
I know I get an inflated sense of myself when people click "like" on my Facebook posts. Now folks at the MIT Media Lab have an article of clothing to translate a social media experience into the real world. The vest inflates when you get "liked" online. No, it's not a hat to swell my head even further, but instead an experimental vest that puffs up, sorta like it's hugging you. Just like a real embrace, only cold, plastic, and lifeless.
Star Trek: The Next Generation Turns 25
OK Star Trek fans: before you start yelling at us for saying "Warp speed, Mr. Scott" on today's show instead of Mr. Sulu, know this: we were referencing a specific clip. It was something we found while searching for sound of the starship warp drive. And while we decided ahead of airing the show that the usual guy to "engage"--at least on the earlier version--was indeed Hikaru Sulu, we figured, what the heck. Can you name what show/movie the clip we're referencing is from?
Either way, tomorrow marks 25 years since the debut of "Star Trek: NEXT Generation." And at this quarter-century mark there's been a couple of pieces of recent Star Trek inspired tech news.
Remember Dr. McCoy's Tricorder to diagnose ailments? The Qualcomm Foundation has announced a competition for researchers who come up with the best real Tricorder...a hand-held wireless device that monitors your health and figures out what's wrong with you. The foundation hopes to advance technology for wireless sensors, imaging, molecular biology, and artificial intelligence. The 10 million dollar X prize could be awarded in 2016.
Chances for a Star Trek-style, faster-than-light real warp drive for inter-galactic travel may be slightly better this month.That's after a NASA scientist proposed a warp drive that looks like a donut. The new shape, in theory, requires much less energy than earlier concepts."There is hope," for warp drive, said the scientist, Harold White. "Hope," of course, does not equal "feasible."
PETA Speaks for the Frogs On The Dissection Table
Wouldn't it be better for frogs if students dissected a virtual frog on a computer screen rather than actually taking an X-Acto knife to a dead one?
The animal rights group PETA is paying to get frog dissection software to students in India, where an official commission called for schools and colleges to phase out the chopping up of actual animals. And if you miss the smell of formaldehyde in the morning, the 3D dissection app can be purchased for the iPad.
Apple's iPhone 5 Maps Fail
If someone asks you for directions this week, they may have just updated to iPhone's new operating system, iOS 6.
Apple's attempt at leaving Google maps in the dust has been, in internet slang, an epic fail. There's already a blog on Tumblr dedicated to showcasing the worst examples--from the misplaced Washington Monument to satellite views that look apocalyptic.
But a rare misstep for Apple is good news for at least one man. Frank Jacobs curates a website featuring strange maps from all over. The Guardian in London had him pick some of his faves, including a map of the U.S. that looks a bit like glowing intestines. What is it charting, you ask? An incredible constellation of McDonalds restaurants, of course.
Cell Phone-Capable Airplanes Coming in 2013
You will remember those clumsy airplane phones in the back of the center seat which, for a hefty price, could let you reach out and touch someone from 30,000 feet. What you get these days is an announcement about turning off all your battery-powered stuff until you reach altitude. And don't even think about making a call. The tide, however, could be shifting. The new Boeing 747-8 Dreamliner, now in production, could let people use their cell phones as soon as next year, although at the moment FAA rules won't allow this over U.S. airspace. So there is First Class, Business Class, and here an idea: Quiet Class.