Thursday, August 30, 2007

The age-old question: Surge or Pull Out?

When a question gets too complicated to understand and resolve I try to reframe the issue in terms that are easier to comprehend. Take, for example, the current US political debate about the major issue in the Middle East, which goes something like this:
    Should the U.S. stay in Iraq? Do we let the surge complete, or do we pull out before the job is finished?
One side argues that the surge is working; that even if the US shouldn’t have gone into Iraq in the first place, now we’re there and we owe it to them to stick it out until the end; that if we pull out now it will be a disaster for those we leave behind. The other side argues that our involvement is not working, staying only makes it worse, and the longer we stay the longer we’ll have to live (and die) with the failed consequences. Complex concepts are involved: Democracy, Self-Determination, Imperialism, Terrorism, Energy & Economies, Security, Life, Death, Right, Wrong.

Heady stuff. Too complicated for almost anyone to understand in these terms. So let’s try to reframe the issue in terms that are more familiar. Most of us are not familiar with finding ourselves, personally, in a mess in the Middle East. But of a lot of us may be familiar with this situation: you’re a teenager making out in the back of your parent’s car in a dark parking spot and you’ve gone farther than you originally anticipated. What do you do, continue the surge or pull out?

Continue the surge, or pull out?

For those of you not following yet, let me clarify the analogous substitutions:
  • For "Middle East" think "back seat of your parents’ car"
  • For "U.S." think "boy" or, if you must, "penis"
  • For "Iraq" think "girl" or, if you must, "vagina"
  • For "surge" think (come on, do you really need a new term?) "ejaculation"
  • For "pull out"? (you really want a new term? You don’t get one.)
So the problem is a lot easier to understand now. Right? Here it is again, written twice, once without substitution (for those with brains who can do it in their head) and written again for those who don’t like to think (that’s you, GWB):
  1. The question about the issue in the Middle East is this: Should the U.S. stay in Iraq? Do we let the surge complete, or do we pull out before the job is finished?

  2. The question about the issue in the back seat of your parents’ car is this: Should the penis stay in the vagina? Do we let the ejaculation complete, or do we pull out before the job is finished?
Now it’s an issue we can all understand and really debate. We can all now see how we might have gotten ourselves into a situation for which we weren’t fully prepared—how we may have planned for months to penetrate Iraq without giving sufficient thought about what to do after that primary mission was accomplished.

If we pull out now, before the job is finished, both parties are sure to experience a period of disappointment—they’re probably going to have to finish the job alone. Maybe there will be messy years of Iraqi-on-Iraqi action. But if we stay in, we’re going to have to do the decent thing and pay for our momentary decision for a long long time (at least the next eighteen years, or longer if the little democracy we've created goes to college).

There. Is it all clear now? I hope so.

It is my sincere hope that I’ve done my small part to make these important issues easier to discuss, and made the questions easier to answer. Most of all I hope that each time you hear a politician or pundit say "surge" or "pull out" you’ll feel a little tingle in your bikini area.

Posted From: The Cape
Mood: Tingly
Now listening to: Pair of Dice Buy the Baath or Shiites

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Apple’s new iPod Freestyle. Too good for our own good?

Anyone who knows me (which is to love me) knows that I’m generally a supporter of corporate trade secrets, IP, and so on. So when an Apple employee recently slipped me a working copy of their next iPod release, so I could blog about it, my first reaction was “No thanks. I’m not into the whole Apple Rumor thing. I already have a life.” The employee said “But this time it’s important. It’s a matter of public health. You must let people know before it’s too late.”

I honestly have no intention of harming Apple. I’m a huge fan of Apple, despite their sometimes-inadequate efforts to protect waterfowl. With my recent purchases of an iPhone, two iPods, and a MacBook Pro, I feel personally responsible for their latest record-breaking quarter. But the anonymous Apple employee had me a little spooked, and so I took the new iPod home, did some research on my own, and now I must reluctantly agree with the whistleblower. Someone has to spill these beans, and it may as well be me. This new iPod cannot be released; at least not now; not without more safety research.

iPod Freestyle Review: In one word, WOW!

First the good news. Apple has done it again! It’s called the “iPod Freestyle” and it’s truly a revolutionary leap forward in personal entertainment devices. I think we were all expecting Apple’s new iPod release to get a UI face-lift in the direction of their iPhone innovations; but they pulled a 180 and went in a completely new and minimalist and unexpected direction.

Within a few minutes of using the Freestyle, one quickly accepts the radical-but-complementary changes in both form and function. This new iPod makes the old iPod seem like a Walkman!

At a high level, this is what’s new in the iPod Freestyle:
  • Form: The Freestyle is no bigger than the headphones, and only as much of the headphones as needed to go from one ear to the other. That’s it! There’s no longer a question of where to hold the iPod, where to hold the long earphone cabling, how to keep them together, or how to untangle things. It’s simply one short unit that, when not in use, naturally stores itself as a high-tech, decorative(?) necklace. At the base of the headphone/necklace is a simple and small single- & multi-touch user input node (“pendant”).
  • Function: The Freestyle is the first iPod that streams audio directly over the air (in typical Apple style, they use the term “Freestyling” where everyone else uses “streaming”). The lines running to each ear act as the radio antennas. The iPod Freestyle itself has very little memory (only enough for intelligent caching of, at most, 30 minutes music); but because it has full WiFi or EDGE access, the Freestyle effectively has constant access to your entire iTunes or AT&T Music Store libraries. Combine this with podcast queuing, emerging internet-radio standards, and even FM radio (a nice little bonus), and it may be said that this is the first iPod with (effectively) infinite storage.
These pictures and comments should give a clearer idea about the innovative new Freestyle.

Here my unidentified spouse, wearing a disguise to protect her identity in case of litigation, demonstrates the iPod Freestyle as a typical listener. Note the size of the small “pendant” controlling unit, which is almost all battery. The battery is surprisingly lightweight. In our tests it supplied about 5 hours of listening time before needing a ½-hour recharge. My anonymous Apple source indicates there may be last-minute changes to the battery size to increase play time

In this series of images, we demonstrate some of the single- and multi-touch (a.k.a. “squeeze”) gestures for controlling volume, selection, pause/play, radio station, and so on. It only took us a minute to learn the controls, and that was without any manual.

Here we see that the Freestyle docks with any USB port for charging. My version of iTunes did not recognize the device. I’m told that the associated iTunes release will add support for selected favored radio stations (the unit we tested was pre-tuned to six popular Bay Area stations), and for intelligent queuing of podcasts.

These photographs demonstrate the kind of simple icing-on-the-cake features that make Apple products such a pleasure for consumers. When not listening to the iPod Freestyle it may simply be worn as a necklace. The earbuds are magnetized so they quickly snap together neatly around the back. Brilliant!

What’s the matter with iPod Freestyle?

I love this new device. Its drawbacks are barely worth mentioning (e.g., it still will not play side 2 of Abbey Road in correct sequence when in shuffle mode). If the Freestyle is released I predict it’s going to be a huge, huge hit.

So, what’s the problem?

Numerous studies have indicated that there is potential harm from close exposure to RF radiation emitted by cell phones and WiFi devices. The FDA has called for more testing. Until now the risks have seemed acceptable because devices are only used intermittently. But with the iPod Freestyle the RF antennas will be wrapped directly around our heads and are in constant use. This is very different than holding up a cell-phone for the occasional phone call--this is constant exposure! And with kids expected to be the most frequent users! Do we want to risk the brains of our future generations on technology that has not been fully tested?

The iPod Freestyle must not be released until proper scientific testing has been performed to verify that this device is safe, or to correct any problems if it is not safe. I don’t want to be alarmist. I just want to be careful. At most this is a delay. Apple will have its groundbreaking product. Just... all things in good time.

A call to action. What can you do about it?

Wireless products such as the iPhone are regulated by the FCC. But related health matters are only understood by the FDA Radiological Health Program. This is a fundamental disconnect, which only be remedied by an act of Congress. This remedy must come soon, before Apple unveils the iPod Freestyle at the September 5 Event and it becomes too late to control this product release in a safe manner.

Remember how society used to love the wonderfully innovative used of lead? asbestos? mercury? CFCs? thalidomide? These dangers were all embraced before their health effects were thoroughly understood, and the children overwhelmingly paid the price. Let’s not let that happen again.

Please, write your Senator and Congressional Representative now with the simple message: “Do not allow the FCC to approve the Apple iPod Freestyle until the FDA has thoroughly tested and approved the device.” Do it now. Do it for the children.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Sounds of Nature

    Note from Ranger Nancy Rickman
    National Park Service
    U.S. Department of the Interior

    The following text was found among the scattered belongings at the last campsite used by Brent Noorda and Steve Moehle in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. From what we can ascertain, they must have run out of toilet paper sometime last Wednesday, and by Thursday morning all civility and rationality and decency was lost. Nine times out of ten this is how these wilderness expeditions go tragically astray: first the toilet paper runs short, and before you know it… just last week I rescued a woman running through the forest, half-naked (bottom half), shouting, maniacally, "does a bear wipe in the woods, does a bear wipe in the woods, does a bear..." And she was one of the lucky ones. The whereabouts of Brent and Steve remain unknown and, considering the activity level of wildlife in the area, increasingly unknowable. In Brent’s pack was an Emergency Relief Kit, lovingly supplied by his wife Amy, containing many medical items, a small stack of writing paper, and a pencil (Note to backpackers: In these parts the way we spell "Emergency Relief Kit" is "T.P."). In most cases these victims use such paper to write a farewell letter to their loved ones and a last will and testament, but in Brent’s case he choose to scribble out a final blog entry. Because this last blog was so obviously important to him, Google and Blogger have allowed me access to Brent’s Blogspot account to copy this final blog for him. What follows is Brent’s text, as near as I can decipher it. The only changes were to link to real pictures rather than try to reproduce his horrid drawings.

    - Ranger Nancy

I’m backpacking all week in the Ansel Adams wilderness with my pal Steve. We had a similar adventure twenty years ago (when I must have been about forty years younger—ow, my back). Occasionally we’ve skirted the John Muir trail, but mostly we’ve stuck to the M.C. Escher trail (no relation to M.C. Hammer, whose trail we can’t touch). The artist portrayed his trail something like this:

Amazingly, we always seem to be on the part of the trail going up (ow, my back).

One’s hearing becomes more finely attuned when one gets away from the clang and the clatter of civilization. These are some of the sounds of nature I’ve heard most often this week:
  • "Ungh, ungh, ungh" – This is the sound heard almost constantly with every step up the Escher trail. It becomes loudest (“UNGH!”) whenever I try to lift my pack from the ground to my shoulders, via my herniating discs.
  • "rrrrrrrrip" – This sound emanated from somewhere behind me when I was bending over. I later found a huge hole in the seat of my pants, so that must have been the sound of a viscous Yellow-Bellied Marmot that had attacked me from behind. The little cowards, always attacking from behind—I can’t think of any other reason why they call them "yellow bellied".
  • "Go away, bear. I have an itchy finger and I’m not afraid to scratch it. I also have a gun." – That’s the sound heard from my tent all night long whenever a twig so much as rustled on Escher’s Mountain.
A translation of those Sounds of Nature, for all you city folk who don’t understand nature-language, goes something like this: "You’re old, you’re fat & out of shape, and you’re a pussy."

Future generations of backpackers will thank us for our latest invention. It is a new backpack compartment for holding a helium tank. Two hoses run from the tank. The first hose goes to a balloon to be filled with helium so as to make the pack as light as desired. The second hose runs to the hiker’s mouth so he can take a drag and say "follow the yellow brick road" in a munchkin voice any time he wants to... again and again... "follow the yellow brick road"... over and over... all day long... until it stops being funny... which is never.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Photo Fun with Heads of State

Amy and I were shocked to get to Mount Rushmore and see our heads up there with other American notables. (Shocked, honored, humbled, confused.)
Ha ha. Fooled you. Our heads weren't really up there on Mount Rushmore. The above photo was made using a simple camera trick. (If you know how this trick was done, please don't tell anyone--real camera magicians never tell our secrets--this means you JBQ and Eugenia).

Next I tried to crush George W's head, but it was as hard as stone. (Talk about hard-headed!)
Ha ha. Fooled you again. Another camera trick. (Reminder to Camera Magicians: shhhhhh.) I wasn't really pinching George's head; I'd never do that to the father of our country.

Finally I took the following picture, which I admit is using a camera trick so complicated that even I don't know how I did it. (Camera Magicians, it's OK to break the Honored Rule of Secrecy now because I do want to be told how it was done.)

That is how I see the world, but usually the camera doesn't capture it.