Sunday, January 25, 2009

tempest in a fishbowl

How it came to be would be difficult to accurately describe to anyone not familiar with the inner workings of The WELL, but I find myself the host of a new conference that's viewable by anyone, WELL member or not.

Aside form being world-readable, Plain.vue is rather generic, as WELL conferences go, taking its character from those who choose to participate and what and how they choose to post. As there's no shortage of wit on The WELL, Plain.vue could turn out to be very entertaining, but it remains to be seen how it will develop.

Do stop by!

(6/27/09) Note that this development turned out to be a flash in the pan, and that all of the above links which appear to point to it now lead to another post in this blog, dated 2/18/09 and titled easy come, almost easy go.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

blame me for digital broadcast TV

True, me being responsible for digital TV is really a huge stretch, monumental, tectonic. But, heh, I'm used to it; I can take it, so go ahead and blame me.

You see, back in the mid-to-late eighties, I spent some time hanging out on CompuServe, originally for the Atari forum, but gradually giving more attention to the Whole Earth forum, hosted by Tom Mandel of SRI. It was about the same time CompuServe decided to close down that forum that I joined The WELL for the first time.

Anyway, Tom popped off the question why computer monitors weren't up to the quality of television, and several of us shot back that it wasn't the hardware, which typically had higher specs than TVs, but the signals generated by computers, because they actually had to synthesize those signals instead of it all just being a recording or a live image. This was followed by a brief discussion of character based displays versus bit-mapping, as well as then emerging analog HD television technologies.

It was then, dismayed at the prospect of having to go through two or more such transitions, that I asked the fateful question, "When are we going to get digital broadcast?" I don't know for a fact that Tom ever passed along that question, but he was certainly well positioned to do so.

Here we are twenty-something years later and analog TV is about to be shut down, and the radio spectrum it used reallocated. I can't help but wonder whether I was the flapping butterfly that set this storm in motion. Nah, what's the chance of that?

Update: Congress has approved the delay of the switchover until June 12th.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

an open letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations on your victory and kudos for the manner in which you've conducted the transition.

Rather than ticking through a long list of issues on which we agree, allow me to focus in on an item of your agenda that in my humble opinion deserves even more emphasis than it has already received, retooling.

Not only do our factories need to be retooled to produce the wind machines and solar panels that will help us towards sustainability, but all elements of our infrastructure need close examination.

For instance, in urban core areas, it is not enough to resurface existing streets and highways and maintain mass transit in the face of state and local budget cuts, although these things are needed in the short term. For the longer term, however, a very different approach is needed, one which combines the complete exclusion of conventional private vehicles from the densest areas, with the provision of convenient, fast, comfortable, and affordable transit systems, of the sort described here, with sufficient capacity to handle even peak demand without congestion.

In suburban and rural areas there is an opportunity for vast improvement in the manner in which we manage land, at once dramatically reducing dependence on petroleum products and improving the sustainability of our agricultural production, through the applicaton of a combination of robotic hardware and expert system software, described in general terms here

Of these, the former is essentially ready for deployment, having already been the object of much engineering work, whereas for the latter that work remains to be done, and the only proactive decision available at the moment is to set about it, making funds available to underwrite joint projects involving ecologists, agronomists, horticulturalists, and agricultural, mechanical, electrical, and software engineers. This project is very likely one of those that only government can accomplish.

You've inspired us to believe that the previously undoable may now be doable. I hope I've managed to return the favor.

Monday, January 05, 2009

watch for the Steve Jobs cookbook!

So now we know.

Good for Steve for putting his health ahead of doing one last Macworld keynote.

Now, considering that the essence of his health troubles has been a hormone imbalance resulting in an effective protein deficiency, and considering that he's famously vegan, and also that he's a stickler for details, you can bet he'll come away from this with a few more recipes to add to his collection, which is likely already pretty interesting. ;-)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

out with a bang, Apple's final appearance at Macworld

This may be Apple's last time at Macworld, but don't expect the company to go out with a whimper. They've gone to the trouble to be there one last time, and they'll be wanting some marketing mileage in return.

The rumor mill seems nearly certain that both the iMac and the Mac mini will see updates at MWSF-09. There's also speculation about a revised Time Capsule with expanded functionality. Some think Apple TV will become a Mac application, given that all new Macs will have video hardware adequate to the task, when combined with signal/pinout converters in dongles. And many anticipate the demonstration of a nearly complete Snow Leopard.

I have a hunch there's something else, something that's completely escaped the attention of the rumor mill, and that the presentation of this something is the main reason Phil Schiller will be acting as emcee for the keynote. But that's all I'm going to say about it, because I don't want to spoil the surprise in the off-chance that I'm right about what that something might be.

So, rather than talk about that, let me just say that those in attendance at the keynote shouldn't be too surprised if Steve Jobs shows up as a Max Headroom-like character, not only on the main screen but also on their laptops and phones, providing a humorous counterpoint to Schiller's uncharacteristically deadpan delivery. Something equally unexpected is likely to happen. ;-)