Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Leap seconds clever but stupid.

For a variety of reasons the Earth isn't always perfect about making it around it's access in the expected amount of time. The implemented answer to this is Leap seconds. Periodically we add a second to our time keeping systems. Since 1970 we've added 26, and we're slated to add the next at the end of the year. I think that this system is stupid for a variety of reasons. (also let's just state off the bat that all numbers in this post will be approximate)

The first thing is the question of why adjust. Why do we need astronomical noon to be perfect noon in part of London? Not all of London mind you, just part of it. At a latitude of 51 degrees 30 minutes, a second's worth of the earth's rotation is only .179 miles. London is over 600 square miles, which is equivalent to circle with diameter 27.6 miles. which at that latitude would take 154 seconds to rotate through. At the current rate of leap seconds it would take over 200 years for the perfect moment of noon to make it all the way from one side of London to another! And it's not even perfect noon since the sun is always slightly to the south. And with s system that takes so long to pay off London might be growing faster than the need for leap seconds to keep noon in London. Will it matter when we've got colonies all over the solar system where in the sky the sun is at noon in London?

Another big problem with this is the effort it takes to actually implement this for all our time keeping systems. Human's don't notice that big a change but computers sure do. So in all our computer systems we keep having to code in and fix weird edge cases like adding a second. Adding this leap second is hard and it's buggy. A stupid amount of human effort goes into pulling this trick off. And probably more effort goes into fixing the things that break when it fails. And this time Google's solution is real time to not implement the extra second but to slowly stretch the seconds on other side.  Hopefully nothing high precision will be using googles clocks that day. Plus there is the question about what they do going forward. Normally things keep track of all the time unit seconds since the beginning of 1970, and have a table to look up when there have been extra seconds, but if google computers don't ever live that extra second then how are they eventually going to take care of it. Are the all the computers just eventually going to register an error of a second and skip ahead? The effort that is involved just doesn't seem worth it.

This also has the gross effect of eliminating all other units of time. If the span between 11:59:30 and 12:00:30 is a minute, then how long is a minute? It depends on which one. If it's one of the ones that has had a second added then it's 61 seconds. And so on for larger units. This already impacted years with leap years, and moths weren't regular anyway, but now everything above a second is not just a calendar indicator instead of an actual unit. And because of weird implementations like google's, a second isn't even really that any more.

One potential solution for this is to do it in time zones. Right now to tell you your local time. your computer has to look up the time zone and modify the time based on that and then look up the leap second chart and modify the time based on that. Why modify the time twice? Why not just make leap seconds or any other minor adjustments for local pride part of the time zone? That way locale's that want noon to be special can finally have it that way, and then they can keep it that way for as long as they desire.

But what we're really going to eventually drive at is global / universal time. The inefficiency of having so much space/stuff dedicated to one person is eventually going to falter and we'll end of with round the clock people trading off space/stuff throughout the day. Not to mention globalization which increasingly creates communities in many time zones that all are on one schedule. All the effort that has gone into local time, and keeps going into maintaining local time is eventually going to be set aside. And then we'll look at the legacy of the leap second look up table and ditch it. Hopefully by then it won't be so late that making that change in and of itself won't be a major headache of an undertaking.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Flying Cars.

Back to the future day was over a year ago, so where are our flying cars?

One of the biggest things holding back flying cars is the human element. We're not that great. And air traffic control for humans would suck. Transition to a future without human drivers. Then that problem goes away and we can have flying cars. We're already doing extensive work in automated drone piloting. Is it really that hard to imagine flying cars as a next step?

Self-driving cars, have a lot of perks in terms of infrastructure. They reduce traffic, so road expansion to mitigate traffic is reduced. They can park on their own, so there doesn't have to be parking everywhere, since your car can drop you off then go find parking. Flying cars increase those perks. At the point where we have flying cars roads are only need for long haul transportation, and so we can spend a lot less money on them. And if you reasonably assume vtol, parking lots can be extra dense. 

And if we want to cast our gaze further forward. Once we have ubiquitous flying cars why would ground level even still be an important thing. we can all have aerial egress. no more going to a central shaft to go up and down. At that point cities might end up looking more and more like the worlds of the Jetsons, or the 5th element. 

Perhaps we'll even moving to ocean based habitats, either floating or in platforms high above the sea, leaving the land to be a nature preserve with only small groups of luddites left. But, of course this magical future has the pitfall that as technology becomes like magic, a crash in society takes us back to square one. In which case our ocean based super-society will be just a legend to the luddite remnants of civilization left on the mainland. But that particular scenario was deliberately picked to sound like the legend of Atlantis.

Getting back to reality: As flying cars kept failing to materialize we kept thinking of them as an increasingly distant prospect. But if fully self driving cars are mainstream by 2020, it's not improbable that we might have flying cars mainstream by 2030. We've gotten so used to predictions of a dull future that an exciting one might just sneak up on us, and that is pretty wonderful to think about.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Apple's Laptop Event

I've seen a lot of circular and confused comments about Apple's laptop event last week, and I thought I would chime in with some of my own thoughts as well clarifications of some of the things I see confused.

To me the biggest question, is what about desktops. There were reports that the iMac has been delayed, but we've heard nothing about the Mac Pro or Mac mini. So we still need answers and it doesn't seem that likely that we'll be getting them this year. If the desktops were addressed, then with a straight face you could tell all the people claiming to be ultra-pro, but demanding in a laptop that they are being silly. With the MacBook Pros still not stepping up to fill all the desktop roles they really have a hole at the top of their computer lineup.

So from a line-up perspective what happened? Apple got rid of the 11-inch MacBook air, and the old thick 13-inch MacBook pro. They left the entry level 13-inch MacBook pro in place but limited it's customizability. Replaced mid-line 13-inch models with the 13-inch without the touch bar, and the high end 13-inch models with the 13-inch with touch bar. They left the entry 15-inch without discrete GPU in place, and replaced the versions with discrete GPUs with the new 15-inch with touch bar. And it looks like they left the 13-inch MacBook air and MacBook alone. If you weren't familiar with the specs of the old laptop lineup or that they left those old MacBook Pros in the line up. It can look like the prices shot up, instead off it being the case that they just didn't make new entry level machines.

As to whether or not they are falling behind Microsoft, with their announcements. I can imagine that for those that draw all the time the Surface Studio is great. And for a company that has been doing a full court press on the laptop front about touch it's great to see them stay true to that message and finally deliver it on the desktop. I hear that they drawing isn't as good as on an iPad, but they are sticking with their gimmick. I don't know that I've bought into the whole touch thing and I'm not sure everyone has, so I think it's ok that Microsoft is better at their gimmick then Apple. But for Microsoft they are a one platform company, where Apple is not so I think it makes sense for them to find a way to unify their platform when Apple is not.

I haven't played with one of the new macs yet, so I can't speak about the touch bar first hand. In the presentation it seemed way better than the pre-announcement rumors I had heard, which made it sound like it would just have buttons with changeable labels. I think that it's all going to depend on the apps, as to whether or not it takes off. I think it will be a bump in the road for the people that do still use keys in the top row with any frequency, which I do because of my correct editor choice of vi, but I hope it will just be an adjustment, and that what there is to be gained is more than the lose.

For the ports, I think that it's great that they went with Thunderbolt-3 / USB-C. I think that thunderbolt-3 offers more than just straight USB-C, and it's good that it's there, and the ports can all be used for whatever. And I think that the industry has spoken and USB-C and/or Thunderbolt-3 are the way of the future. It's annoying that it's everything all at once, and before we've even finished off the last of the magsafe-1 devices. But I don't think that these ports will become "mac" ports the way firewire or the first two thunderbolt versions were, which is great.

As for the memory limit of 16GB. I am constantly amazed at what can be done by tablets and phones with less than a quarter of that. And one of the reasons to use more memory is to make up for other bottle necks, which have all gotten faster. I do think that there is a place for a mac with more memory, but it probably shouldn't be a laptop anyway.

And doubling back to the complainers. I saw people both complain about the "price change", and that the high end wasn't high enough. Their high end prices didn't really change, so you if you're making both those complaints you probably weren't in the high end before. And if it really is a big limit on you, why are you trying to do all that much on a laptop anyway. It should probably be a minor annoyance unless you're trying to do way too much on a laptop.

I also think it's funny to see so many people talking about how Apple is alienating their core customers. They are the most profitable company ever and their market share in the industry had been growing until they got to the heart of this drought. I imagine that they know exactly who their core customers are, it's probably not who it was 15 years ago. There are also a lot of internal equations that could see someone leaving the mac platform, and I think that those people who have already made that decision will use a new release to re-affirm it to themselves, when nothing could have kept them on the platform anyway.

In general, I think that there is a lot of unnecessary doom and gloom (as long as they do something about the desktops). I think that the size and efficiency improvements will be a big plus to a lot of people. The new task bar provides an interesting opportunity. Finally have a secure enclave in the mac is interesting (and from the point of view of someone that supports them scary). It is disappointing that apple is moving to the model of having the old model as the low-end/entry model at the end of a drought.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Smart Watches

I've had an Apple watch for about a month now, so I thought I'd share my thoughts, on it in particular, and on smart watches in general.

Why did I buy the apple watch? I wasn't buying a new smartphone this year for a change, but saw from Apple's entry into the bluetooth headphone market, that the remote was a thing of the past, and thing to fill that gap would be a watch. So if the new ecosystem was going to be one with a watch, I wanted to buy it in this off year, to make next year cheaper, and to be a position where I could make a better judgment about the proposed ecosystem. I also kind of think that health trackers of some sort are the future, so might as well, jump in.

I probably don't use the apple watch typically. I'm not an alert fiend or a workout hound. I sleep with the watch on and have it on for most of the day. It frequently gets some time off (and charging) right after I get home, and again while I shower in the morning. And with this routine, and with rise to wake off, I don't have problems with the watches battery life.

I think where the watch really shines for me is as a digital watch. It's probably the best I've owned. It's alarms with it's taptic engine are nice and discrete. It's easy to have many of them and to set them up in same-complicated fashions. It's replaced my iPhone for most of my alarms. It's timers are also good. And it's generally more convenient to get to then my phone for the time. I don't think that any watch has lasted on my wrist so long.

It's a fitness tracker, but I don't watch that that much. I'm not trying to use it for that much. My curiosity about such things is fed by it. I think that it's a good supplement to my phone. And it meets my idle curiosity. But a large part of my interest in this function stems from the death of my mother. She died alone and her last hours are a mystery to us. We used some of the tracking in her phone to shape up that period. But a watch that's almost always on me will, I imagine do a better job.

I haven't gotten to use it as a remote yet. I can but it's somewhat silly since I'm not using bluetooth headphones. Even when I do, then model I think is most compelling has an on wire remote. So we'll see if this use pans out. maybe I'll be able to do enough or maybe it'll be slower for all the things the on cable remote can do, but too awkward to do the more complicated stuff.

While my phone is a device I spend a lot of time staring at I think the watch is a device for glancing at. I really like the intimate notifications of it tapping me. and using it for apple pay can go either way depending on the terminal location. For health monitoring and discreet notifications, and maybe as remote for things on less accessible objects. Overall I think that it's a plus. If you're not sure, I'd consider waiting until series 3, comes out and you can potentially get a used series 2, on the cheap.

I think there is a future for wearables. I imagine in the future, I'll wear headphones that work for all of my devices. have a watch for when I'm on the go and need to interact with something, and really only pull out my phone for entertainment/productivity, when I'm stopped somewhere for a while. I once thought that what we should have is a personal area network, that lives in a brick in our bag, and that can manage choosing between cell or wifi, and have lots of endpoints we can interact with. Now that's what we're getting but it's going to be our phone.