A record player in a car, what could go wrong

What’s the connection between the Beatles’ George Harrison, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and Chrysler cars? The Highway Hi-Fi: a vinyl record player that just happened to be the world’s first in-car music system. It appeared 60 years ago this spring, in 1956, and should have been a smash hit. It was innovatory, a major talking point, arrived as the car market was booming as never before, and it came with much press hype. It also had the backing of a leading motor manufacturer. What could possibly go wrong?

Source: Forgotten audio formats: The Highway Hi-Fi | Ars Technica

It's a fascinating story, made even more so because basically proprietary formats and copyright tangles killed it so quickly.

Apple vs. the FBI

I'm becoming increasingly frustrated about the reporting around Apple vs. the FBI, which is largely this narrative:

FBI: "You have to fly"

Apple: "Flying is something we've never done before, and doesn't really seem reasonable"

FBI: "No, we asked you to jump 70 times before, we can see that you can jump. So all you have to do is not land."

Apple: "Flying and jumping are fundamentally different things."

Politicians: "Isn't there a compromise, couldn't you just hover for a few minutes?"

The FBI wants a custom version of iOS developed and deployed onto this phone which removes the 10 pin retry limit,  removes the delay between pins, and allowa the pins to be sent over an electronic interface directly (not via the touch screen). This would allow the FBI to brute force password crack the phone (all Hollywood style). They have said that it's ok for this version of iOS to be linked to this specific device.

The problem: there doesn't exist any version of iOS out there that will do this. It doesn't exist for a reason, because iOS was designed and engineered with security in mind. Building a version of iOS such a thing existing anywhere exposes users, given the data breaches that exist that let things get out into the real world. How do you really bind it to a single device? How do you ensure that if extracted that couldn't be tweaked to work on other devices? These are pretty hard engineering and security challenges, especially considering all the side channels that exist. The 10 pin limit was that protection point before, and as can be seen, a reasonably secure one.

It's also frustrating that the reporting of the anti FBI side is just privacy, because it's not. What about the safety of diplomats abroad, or undercover law enforcement. Better security makes us all safer.

Disclaimer: I am in general not an Apple fan. I hate their stance on interoperability and standards (which is basically to never play well with others). However they are making a stand here that's critically important as technology becomes more and more of an extension of ourselves.

Home Assistant

People often ask me about my vision for Home Assistant. Before I can describe where I want to go with Home Assistant, I should first talk about how home automation would look in my ideal world. This will be the aim of this post. I’m not going to focus on protocols, networks or specific hubs. That’s all implementation details. Instead, this post will focus on what is most important: the interaction between the users and their home.

Source: Perfect Home Automation - Home Assistant

After my MHVLUG talk on IoT and Home Automation, I stumbled upon Home Assistant. It's an exciting project, and the maintainer has a great view of what home automation should look like.

I agree with all of this. The best user interface is no interface, things are just correct when you need them to be. The cloud should be very optional, and a cloud outage shouldn't cripple your home (like the recent Nest issue). Graceful fallback is important.

I've had fun contributing to the project so far, and look forward to making this the primary interface to my house over the next couple of months.

The Design Benefits of Sunken Conversation Pits - Core77

In addition to the tripping hazard, this one features a roaring fire waiting at the bottom, as well as a heavy piece of metal suspended directly overhead. I'm not saying there will definitely be an accident, but if there is, you will definitely post it on Vine.

Source: The Design Benefits of Sunken Conversation Pits - Core77

One of my favorite articles on design this year was this incredibly snarky look at conversation pits: a really bizarre fad in upscale homes from the 50s through the 70s.

Exploding-whale day: the 45th anniversary

Today, reportedly, is the 45th anniversary of the famous exploding whale. The event was documented in this KATU television report, in 1970: The announcer summarized, firsthand, the fallout: "However, everyone on the scene was covered with small particle of dead whale." Now, people have built an entire business, or at least a web site, on…

Source: Exploding-whale day: the 45th anniversary

The Exploding whale video was the first video I ever watched on the internet, some 20 years ago. It perfectly captures many elements of what the internet is. A thing that's educational, bizarre, a bit gross, and a cultural flash point all at once.

The Story of Hōkūleʻa

Embedded in the story of Hōkūle’a and the culture that created her is the story of a 2000-year-old relationship with special islands and the sea. It is a story that was almost lost, and was close to extinction. But ultimately it is a story of survival, rediscovery, and the restoration of pri…

Source: The Story of Hōkūleʻa

This I learned from an episode of the Commonwealth Club: there is a boat, sailing around the world, without instruments (no sextants / clocks). They are using traditional Polynesian navigation which is about wave patterns, cloud patterns, and animals at sea.

 

Continuum

I just finished Continuum, and it had one of the more satisfying series endings that I've seen in a while. Spoilers will be saved for a bit later. Seasons 1 - 3 are up on Netflix now, and Season 4 (which recently ended) will probably make it's way there later this year.

Continuum is about a set of time travelers that come back from 2077 to change the future. From the beginning it sets up an interesting set of axes. Our protagonist is part of a militant protection services body, chasing a set of terrorists called Liber8. Except those terrorists are what you'd recognize as people standing up for civil liberties and basic freedoms.

The first season is brilliant, and while it dips and weaves a little in season 2, season 3 and 4 pulled it back together for a solid ride.

Minor spoilers beyond this point, you've been warned.

In thinking back through the series, ever season folds over a new timeline on the ones before it. We end with a time travel event that causes a new twist in an interesting way. Apparently the creators originally had between 7 to 10 seasons worth of layers they were thinking about. The rather abrupt introduction of the time traveler at the end of season 3 and early in 4 definitely feels a little rushed, and something they would have held onto for another year or so if the end was not in sight.

But, at least they got season 4 to wrap it up. And while it felt like we were marching a bit faster, it didn't feel forced. Pacing was one of the things that Continuum was always quite good at. Time wasn't just the plot, it was also a key part of the art of this show.

If you are looking for good new Sci Fi, definitely give this one a shot. It stays quite true to itself to the end, and stays firmly on it's rails the whole time.

 

The Martian

"I'm stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I'm dead. I'm in a Hab designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I'll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I'm fucked." - Mark Watney

The Martian is one of my favorite books that I've read in a while. I've always felt that the "man vs. environment" theme was far under explored in scifi. Space is deadly. Most of the universe is completely hostile to life. And yet when major motion pictures do Mars movies they invent killer robots to trigger the suspense.

The Martian is a straight up hard scifi book about being stranded and surviving on Mars. It's got a great mix of problem solving, the unexpected, and a wise cracking protagonist. Every challenge he has to overcome is completely realistic. No crazy deus ex machina to inject suspense where this is none. If you like hard sci fi, you'll love this book.

And it's being turned into a major motion picture this October, hopefully landing before our drive in closes for the year. So if books aren't your thing, you could wait for the movie. But, you should really read the book. It's a lot of fun.

Neil Gaiman: How Stories Last - The Long Now

“Stories,” Gaiman said, “teach us how the world is put together and the rules of living in the world, and they come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and want to help them propagate.” Northwest coast native Americans have a tale about a beautiful woman and young man whose forbidden love was punished by the earth shaking, and black ash on snow, and finally fire coming from a mountain, killing many people. It stopped only when the beautiful woman was thrown into the burning mountain.

That is important information-- solid-seeming mountains can suddenly erupt, and early warnings of that are earthquakes and ash. As pure information it won’t last beyond three generations. But add in beauty and forbidden love and tragic death, and the story will be told as long as people live in the mountains.

Source: Neil Gaiman: How Stories Last - The Long Now

Neil Gaiman did the latest Seminar About Longterm Thinking, audio available to all, video available to Long Now members. 2 years in the making, this is a story about stories, and how we have stories that date back 5000 years.

I think my favorite moment was his explanation that stories are lies. When you say "Once upon a time", it's code for "I'm going to lie to you now". And when you say "this happened to a friend of mine", it's code for "I'm going to lie to you now, but I think there is a chance this might be true". But in those lies we layer elements of truth that endure, even as the stories adapt to the modern age.

As with all Long Now talks, this comes in over an hour and a half of content, but well worth your time.

Pluto is Red

Pluto is a completely different colour from the one we thought it was, according to new images that also show the huge heart that seems to be carved into its side.

Source: Pluto is red: New Horizons images throw out previous understanding of dwarf planet - News - Gadgets and Tech - The Independent

It's going to take me a long time to mentally adjust my model. Pluto is blue in my head, probably from some bit of pop fiction some time in the past.

It's going to be 18 months of trickling back all the data about Pluto, so even though the flyby is in just under 3 days, we're going to be getting new information about our favorite dwarf planet all through the next year.

Various rambling thoughts from my personal corner of the internet