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.