taking a bridge from the past to the future

Oct 20th, 2009 Posted in tech | no comment »

The eastern half of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is being replaced.  So what should be done with the old bridge when the new one is finished?  Caltrans is planning to scrap it, of course, but a couple of architects have proposed turning it into a park and sports complex instead.  Granted, doing so would require the same costly seismic retrofitting that led Caltrans to decide to replace the bridge in the first place, but reusing abandoned bridges in this way is still an intriguing idea in places where the ground doesn’t move.

that word does not mean what you think it means…

Oct 12th, 2009 Posted in history, tech | no comment »

Here’s an interesting article about the real Luddites.  The modern use of the word refers to people who are anti-technology.  Actually, the original Luddites were against the wholesale replacing of people (in particular, themselves) with technology and other cost-cutting methods in the “new economy” of early 19th century England.

one small step

Jul 20th, 2009 Posted in history, tech | no comment »

A lot of attention has been paid to today’s 40th anniversary of the moon landing.  There are the unsung heroes, the rocket scientists who actually built the Saturn V.  There’s the talk of the future, with the Apollo 11 astronauts urging that we aim for a manned mission to Mars instead of a return to the moon.  There’s the 10-year-old boy who helped NASA maintain radio contact with the returning capsule before it splashed down.  There’s the late Walter Cronkite’s iconic coverage of the mission.  There’s the interesting historical journey from Gil Scott-Heron to the new NASA Administrator.  There are the mirrors that were left on the surface, and the end of one research project that has been using one all this time.  And there’s Google Earth, which now lets you experience the moon landing up close.


Jul 4th, 2009 Posted in tech | 2 comments »

Sorry for another long hiatus.  Part of what has been keeping me busy in more recent weeks is the Palm Pre I picked up on the day it premiered.  Plenty of people have covered the phone already, but by popular demand here are some quick impressions (in no particular order):

  • WebOS is pretty slick.  The cards metaphor is easy to pick up.  I just wish you could squeeze more than four icons into the launch bar at the bottom.
  • Best phone I’ve had yet in terms of being comfortable to hold in your hand.
  • The keyboard is okay with me.  But then again, my previous phone was a Centro, so I’m used to the rubber chiclet keys.
  • You will not be impressed with the battery life.  But it uses a similar battery to the Centro, so at least that can be swapped in in a pinch.  (You’re actually not supposed to do that, since the Pre battery is supposedly designed for higher current draw than the Centro battery.  The Centro battery worked okay for me for the couple of days that i tried it, though.)
  • The phone does have four radios (CDMA, Bluetooth, 802.11g, and a GPS receiver), so turning off a subset of them will help the battery.
  • Generally responsive, though some apps seem a bit sluggish.  The email client is particularly slow, although my email setup is a lot more complicated than yours (trust me).  Meanwhile, I’m hoping that future WebOS releases will bring performance enhancements.
  • It should really have a dedicated Facebook client like the iPhone does.  Hopefully one will come soon.  The x.facebook.com site that comes as a default bookmark in the web browser is not good.  Fortunately, the full facebook site works quite well (including facebook chat), aside from a couple of oddities.
  • WebOS updates seem to be coming on the regular… two have happened in the four weeks since I got my phone.
  • Like everyone else, I’m waiting for the Mojo SDK to be (officially) released, so that we can finally start getting some apps.  But the success that folks have already had in tinkering with the phone is encouraging.  So far, folks have gotten some old game emulators, sshd, and a web server running on the phone.
  • Sprint’s Simply Everything plan looks like a great deal relative to the competition.  Unlimited voice and texts, “unlimited” (really 5 GB/month) data, and Sprint Navigation (GPS with spoken turn-by-turn directions) for $100/month.  Equivalent service for the iPhone on AT&T runs $160/month.
  • Multitasking works pretty well.  The highlight for me so far is this: Set a destination in Sprint Navigation, then fire up Pandora and listen to some tunes.  When it’s time for Navigation to give you the next spoken directions, it automatically lowers the volume of the music (and raises it again when it’s done talking).  Slick!
  • Classic works well enough for running old PalmOS apps.  At least my favorites (Scrabble and pssh) work.  The recent 1.1 update was desperately needed, though.
  • Now that Missing Sync has arrived, I don’t really have to trust the cloud anymore — I can just sync to my Mac as I did on the Centro.  Still trying to decide the best way to go.
  • I’m boycotting syncing with my Facebook contacts until they allow me to selectively exclude some of them from the sync.  I don’t want all of my FB friends in my phone.
  • The web browser is great.  Finally, Palm has something that’s as good as (maybe even better than) Mobile Safari on the iPhone.
  • Some folks have complained about build quality issues, but mine seems okay.  I did notice a bright splotch on the lower right corner of the screen when I first got it, but that seems to have dissipated.
  • The YouTube player works pretty well, even over the Sprint network.
  • I’m glad that it has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.  Now I can listen to Pandora through the cassette adapter in my car.
  • My go-to site for Pre news as of late has been precentral.net.
  • I need to sit down and explore Sprint TV more.  So far, I’ve only watched a few minutes of a Battlestar Galactica episode.  Seems like there’s a lot more there than that…

So there you have it.  I’ll update this as I think of more stuff.  I also picked up a Mifi 2200, which is just plain cool.  More on that later.

more tech bits

Apr 24th, 2009 Posted in tech | no comment »

A couple more recent finds: An introduction to the servers that run Google. What really was going on at Area 51, as told by some of the people who worked there. The early days of Wikipedia.