Remote test post from iPhone

Thought I’d try posting directly from the iPhone for the fun of it. I can see this being useful if I actually did interesting things with my life. As it stands, however, I’m currently sitting in Newtowne park in the square, and here’s what’s going on at the moment:


How to quit your job with an iPhone 3G

In ten easy steps:

  1. Purchase an ‘R’ rated movie from the iTunes music store.
  2. Pause movie during particularly noisy sex scene, preferably one involving farm animals.
  3. Turn off phone.
  4. Go to important meeting with your entire staff, including boss.
  5. Turn off ringer using mute switch and put phone to sleep.
  6. Think you’re safe.
  7. Innocently pull out headphones from jack, momentarily shorting out badly designed mechanism in jack used to sense the remote play switch.
  8. Remain blissfully unaware that you’ve just set a chain reaction in motion which will destroy your career.
  9. Sit in stunned horror a few seconds later as sounds of impure love eminate loudly from your shirtpocket in the middle of your boss’ presentation, despite the silent switch being on.
  10. Run back to office in tears to polish up resume.
  11. (Optional.) Write Steve Jobs an angry letter about how good design includes more than just polished metal.

(No, this didn’t happen to me. At least not exactly. It wasn’t a meeting, it was a seminar. And my boss wasn’t there, thankfully. And instead of farm animals, it was far worse: it was emo music.)

iPhone 3G initial impressions

iPhone maps
iPhone maps

Last Friday (through means which I’m too embarrassed to publicly discuss) I got an iPhone 3G. Here are my initial impressions after using it for a couple of days.

Screen. Visually, it’s near perfect. Bright and with sufficient field of view. The only problem I have with it is that sometimes my finger just won’t slide over its surface. I don’t know if I’m just some sort of physical mutant, or if I’ve got weird finger chemistry, but sometimes it’s just unusable as a touch screen as my finger sticks to it, especially if the screen has just been cleaned. It seems that the screen was designed to work best when covered by a thin layer of grime from you fingers. I just don’t get why everybody loves this so much, but I guess I’m just weird. This problem was solved by getting a matte protective anti-glare film for the screen. The display isn’t as sharp, but its finally a pleasure to use the touch screen. I recommend you play with the iPhone in the store for a while and actually use it (try scrolling and dragging) to make sure you like dragging your finger across polished glass a million times a day.

3G network. This is a bit of a disappointment. As many many other people have found, the 3G reception is poor, and a huge battery killer. With 3G turned on I can’t get through a full day without having to recharge. Where I live in Cambridge the signal is so bad that calls will degrade and occasionally drop. It fluctuates between zero and three bars. Cambridge ain’t exactly the middle of nowhere, however, and I expect AT&T’s network is better than the iPhone’s performance would indicate. From what I’ve heard, this is a problem with the iPhone; an AT&T 3G phone from another manufacterer will often have five bars sitting right next to an iPhone with one.

I will say this, though: when it works, it’s quite fast, and I usually see speeds of around 1 Mb/s. Fortunately, you can disable 3G from the phone settings, but unfortunately there’s no way I can disable the $10 a month extra I’m paying for it. From all my previous experiences with Apple, I knew I was asking for trouble by buying the first batch of anything. Apple brutally punishes early adopters like no other company.

If there’s an excuse for this poor performance, it’s the near engineering miracle Apple had to pull off to get everything to work. In one tiny package, the iPhone contains GPS, multi-band 2.5G, multi-band 3G, WiFi, and Bluetooth radios. That’s a lot of RF going on in one place, and they all have to share antennas. I’m kind of amazed it works at all, frankly.

Data integration. For now, the iPhone only integrates natively with iCal (on a Mac), Outlook and Exchange. Fortunately, if you use Google calendar, there is a wonderful solution available from The folks at NuevaSync have essentially built an Exchange server that can pull your contacts and calendar from various online services (Google and Plaxo, for now) and make it available from the industry standard Exchange protocol. A brilliant idea, and a very timely one given the release of the iPhone 2.0 software which allows for Exchange integration and push. When I (or my wife) edit a calendar item online, it instantly appears on the iPhone.

App Store. As everybody predicted, there is a plethora of putative social networking revolutions, with trendy names like beepo and blue lemmingster, etc. But there are some surprisingly good apps available, and it seems the best ones are free. Some highlights: Bloomberg has an app gives you access to beautiful stock charts and a live news feed. AOL Radio provides dozens of live streaming radio channels across several genres, and it works over the cell network.

As Apple opens up the API more and more, I think the biggest impact of the iPhone will be as a new development platform for connected mobile applications. The most powerful applications of the phone are those which use the wireless broadband to connect to remote information and computing resources. It’s very satisfying, for example, to be out walking around outside and yet have access to the terabytes of satellite photos in Google Maps. On a more frivolous level, there is Shazamm, a program that will tell you the name and artist of virtually any song based on a 15 second sample played into the phone. One of the most interesting examples of the mobile-to-cloud computing paradigm is Jott, an app which will transcribe dictated notes. It records and compresses your voice at the iPhone, and then sends it to India where it is transcribed by a person and then sent back to your phone as text.

I’m looking forward to seeing what other kinds of applications are enabled by having a computer in your pocket with an always-on broadband internet connection. The iPhone isn’t so much a phone in this context as it is a rich mobile interface to remote supercomputers (and underpaid Indians).

What’s missing. Cut and paste, for one. Video conferencing. Live mobile TV, such as AT&T makes available on some of their other cell phones. Flash support in the browser. The ability to read PDFs anywhere but within an e-mail attachment or from a webpage. Push Gmail.

What’s just plain bad. The third from worst design flaw I’ve seen is that turning off the sound doesn’t actually turn off all sounds. Music can still play through the speaker in certain cases, and not all apps respect the mute setting. The second worst is that when you unplug the headphones, the phone sometimes turns on whatever music you were last playing in the iPod software (it fools the phone into thinking you momentarily hit the play button on the headphone remote). The absolute number one design flaw is that the second and third worst flaws can combine, so that you can end up blaring music in the middle of a lecture just by pulling out your headphones. I presume Apple will fix this in an update.

The 2.0 software feels like an early beta. The interface is often unresponsive, taking a few seconds to do something as simple as open a field for editing (the contacts program, of all things, is the worst offender). The browser crashes fairly regularly, and I’ve even hung the phone one or twice trying to watch a video podcast. It’s the first phone I’ve ever owned that crashes more than my laptop…

The battery life is rather poor. I haven’t gotten the phone to make it through the day yet, though a lot of that maybe that I leave the WiFi on. Regardless, I have no idea how Apple can claim five hours of 3G usage. Maybe that’s if you’re standing on the top of a cell tower.

Summary. Were it not for some of the aforementioned issues, it would be a truly remarkable piece of technology, especially in terms of the wonderful interface. It’s more enjoyable to use than a computer for most small tasks like checking e-mail. While I really love the iPhone in many ways, I have to admit that it’s clearly not worth the money when you factor in the plan. Of course, I’m kind of loath to return it at this point. It’s a kind of irrational psychology that is probably responsible for most of Apple’s revenue, I suspect: In the end, it’s just cool, and it would be hard to go back to klunky, even if klunky gets the jobs done for half the price. Look-and-feel counts for more than anybody (certainly I) would like to admit. Steve Jobs is a genius for being so cynical as to truly plumb the limits of this. So, I’m gonna stick with my heavy, big, overpriced, crashy, no-battery-life, embarass-me-in-meetings iPhone. Because it’s just so goddam fun to scroll around with a flick of your finger!

Fifteen things I know about God

I’m not a big fan of people who try to argue you into believing in God. Despite a long history of really tortured attempts at a so-called ontological argument for God, which usually involve some sort of lame circular logic along the lines of “something perfect wouldn’t fail to exist, so God must exist,” logic cannot be used to prove God exists, let alone understand its full nature if it does. Hume’s argued that there’s no such thing as an a priori proof of the existence of anything.

Having said this, logic, restricted to proper domains, can still be used to make conclusions about what God cannot be. And that’s still fun, right? An example: God is not the San Diego Chicken. Proof: the San Diego Chicken was created by Ted Giannoulas, who was created by God. Something cannot create itself, thus God is not the San Diego Chicken. Quod est demonstratum. Along the same lines, here are a few more things I believe one can prove.

God is not:

  1. Angry.
  2. A Yankees fan.
  3. The kind of dude who would “choose” a group of people.
  4. At all disappointed that the Lakers lost.
  5. A man.
  6. A woman.
  7. Alanis Morrisette.
  8. Going to pay a lot for this muffler.
  9. Saying a word.
  10. Spelled with a ‘Z’.
  11. White.
  12. Wearing any pants.
  13. Up.
  14. Responsible for your touchdown.
  15. Particularly concerned with helping you avoid suffering.

Proofs are left as an exercise to the reader. A hint: first prove the lemma that God is not human, proceeding similarly to the proof for the non-divinity of the San Diego Chicken. All else follows fairly trivially from that, except maybe 13, which requires group theory.

Maybe “moral hazard” should be taken more literally

In this whole mortgage mess, the phrase “moral hazard” comes up an awful lot. When capitalism gets out of line, I think it’s always tempting for capitalists to look at incentives, say they reward bad behavior, and then focus thereafter on the incentives as the problem. But aren’t there always incentives for bad behavior? Isn’t that the whole point of cheating; because if it works it pays off?

Another common phrase these days is “incentivization,” an Orwellian neologism that implies the only thing keeping us from turning into complete savages and pillaging our neighbors is that we are otherwised directly compensated for not doing so. It’s a conceit of academic economists, I think, who hate the idea that there are aspects of a good society that can’t be understood with an equation.

The main problem with the mortgage debacle is pretty simple, even if the finances aren’t: some bad people cheated. There are ways to fight that, but not ways to guarantee it never happens. There is no system in the world that will eliminate every reward for bad behavior. The FNM managers probably broke laws and certainly violated their fiduciary responsibility, at the very least, but we’re to believe that the real problem was the moral hazard created by their implicit government backing? Chicken shit. The modern world is rife with moral hazard: we are almost never held accountable for our actions on behalf of others, and most of us work in situations where we are on the hook for very little of what is at stake. What ultimately keeps people from taking all manner of advantage of the myriad safety nets in our world (the GSEs are just an extreme example) is something that is not at all fashionable to discuss: morality. Not the religious pious type, but the social-minded morality that compells one to act honorably even if we haven’t been direcly incentivized to do so by some board of managers. Because cheating really does work out quite well for the individual who does the cheating.

These Wall Street crooks should be detested as pariahs, not seen as the inevitable victims of a poorly designed reward system. This is not to say we need no laws, or that incentives should be ignored, just that they are neccesarily but not at all sufficient conditions to a proper functioning society. Integrity cannot be regulated into people.

How to make a left-wing progessive media statement

In the interest of giving fair time to all opinions, I’ve decided to step aside and table my regularly scheduled rabid wall-punching right wing diatribe. Instead, today’s post has been guest written by a member of the Green Party in Cambridge, on the topic of how to give a proper media statement.

How to make a left-wing progressive media statement

by Sheila Baldwin-Cooper-Oscar-Meyer

Are you planning to attend a protest against a G7 convention? Going to picket outside of an oil company? Just planning to throw a brick through some deserving corporate window? If there’s any chance that you might be interviewed by a reporter, especially on camera, you should brush up on the following official advice for progressive media statements.

  1. Make sure your voice goes up—preferably a dissonant interval like a half-tone or a diminished fifth (“The Maria”)—at the end of every sentence. Otherwise, you’ll sound offensively declarative and patriarchal. Kind of like a Republican.
  2. Shrill monotone nasal intonation! I can’t emphasize this enough. A low, calm voice does NOT get the message across. You want to aim for something between a child’s whine and a cat being ingested in a jet engine. You know who have creepy-low, calm voices? Republicans.
  3. Use the word “shocked” or “outraged” at least five times. Per sentence. If you’re not shocked, you’re probably a Republican.
  4. Use the phrase “the current administration” in a smugly mocking tone in every other sentence. Republicans!!!

Despite this advice, you may find yourself flustered in the heat of the moment. The best of us do (especially with all the great weed that one tends to find at a protest). If all else fails, chant something that rhymes. It will be hard, so fortunately the research and development wing of the progressive movement has discovered that “ho” and “go” rhyme, even if–and this is crucial–you put other words in between them. An example: “Hey hey, ho ho, lateral extraction drilling has got to go.” Does it mean anything? No. But did you actually learn anything about economics or environmental science while you were majoring in gender studies at Brown? Exactly. Stick to the playbook; it’s time tested by a generation who managed to dismantle an entire culture while higher than a roadie at an Allman Brothers concert.

And just remember: when all else fails, call somebody a “fascist”.

How to correctly set your car’s sideview mirrors

When I first started driving, like most people I know I set my sideview mirrors so that I could always see the side of the car. It seemed like the right thing to do. However, this leaves one with a huge blind spot, especially just off to your back left. At the time, I figured you just had to turn around to properly clear yourself before changing lanes, and I didn’t understand why we even bothered to have sideview mirrors. Fortunately, not long after I got my license, my insurance company decided to put a little set of instructions in their monthly newsletter for young drivers on how to properly set the mirrors. It turns out the car companies actually know what they’re doing with the whole mirror situation, it’s just that most of us don’t. Here’s how they’re supposed to work:

The problem with the way most people set up their mirrors is that they render the sideview mirrors almost completely redundent with the rearview (center) mirror by aiming them essentually straight back, so that you can see what’s pretty much straight behind you, including the side of your car, but not much to the side. But the sideview mirrors are actually supposed to cover very little: just the area between what you can see out the back with the rearview, and what you can see with your peripheral vision. With properly set mirrors you should be able to see everything without moving your head. You should be able to see a car coming from behind you in either lane in your rearview mirror, and as it leaves your rearview mirror it should be just coming into your sideview, and as it leaves your sideview mirrors it should be coming up directly beside you in your peripheral vision. You should thus be able to change lanes by moving your eyes, not your head.

Given differences in people’s cars (not to mention heads) the only way to get it perfect is to experiment, making sure that you never lose complete sight of a car passing you on either side. You can do this safely while stopped at a light as cars pulls up beside you, or you can adjust them while parked on the side of a street. To get a very good first approximation, do the following (this is the method USAA recommends):

  1. Set the rearview so that you can see straight backwards.
  2. Stick your head up right against the driver side window, and adjust your left sideview mirror so that you can just begin to see the left side of your car.
  3. Put your head in the middle of the car, between the driver and front passenger’s seat and adjust your right mirror until you can just see the right side of the car.

When you are in a normal driving position, you won’t be able to see your own car in your sideview mirrors. You’ll probably find driving like this disconcerting at first because all you can see on the side mirrors is the side of the road rushing by, with no visual reference to let you know exactly where you’re looking. In fact, you won’t be able to see anything in your sideview mirrors that you can see in your rearview. But that’s the point! If they are adjusted correctly, each mirror handles a certain angle of view behind you such that everything is covered, with no blindspot big enough for a car.

When changing lanes, all you need to do is check your rearview, and then glance to the appropriate sideview to make sure it’s not filled with car. If you just see a blur of road rushing by, you’re clear. It takes a while to learn to trust it, and for me the only way I could do so was to verify several times that I never lost sight of a passing car as I was driving.

Unlike most of my posts, this isn’t just meaningless pedantry. The whole idea is that if you have your mirrors adjusted correctly, you never need to turn your head around to change lanes, thus always keeping your head pointed where you’re going. Turning around to check what you might bump into while changing lanes is really a bad idea when it leaves you not looking at what you’re headed towards at 65 MPH.

Gatorade: a prime example of cynical marketing

It should be obvious, but sometimes it bears reminding that people in corporate marketing often don’t operate with a tremdous amount of integrity. For lack of anything better to write, I thought I’d pass along a banal but telling observation I recently made about, of all things, Gatorade.

Gatorade was created by legitimate sports scientists, and while it’s formula is simple–sucrose, dextrose, salt and potassium–it really does have a actual benefit. The sucrose and dextrose are sugars with relatively low glycemic indexes, and the salt and potassium provide electrolytes. All things that are rather important to the functioning of your muscles, and thus it reasons to replace them. Professional sports teams provide Gatorade partly because I’m sure they get money for it, but also because it has been shown to be truly effective.

Not surprisingly, the company has always marketed the product to consumers, who recken if pro sports teams provide it to their players, it must be worth buying. However, at some point, they changed the formula sold to consumers in order to save money. If you look at a current bottle of good old lemon-lime Gatorade, you’ll see that it doesn’t contain salt (though there is potassium) and the sucrose and dextrose have been replaced by the cheaper (thanks to our moronic farm subsidies) but far less healthy high fructose corn syrup. (America truly runs on high fructose corn syrup.) Corn syrup is a great way to get a sugar crash, the last thing an athlete wants to consume. I guess they figured the salt didn’t help the taste and was kind of pointless in the sham they now pawn off on consumers.

What makes this truly cynical marketing is not that the company makes two products of vastly different quality, but that they call them the same thing. Imagine if Honda made special version of their cars with better handling and safety to give to celebrities, trying to make it look like famous people drove Civics.

How much does Gatorade save? Whatever it is, I’m certain truly informed consumers would rather pay the extra few cents to get the healthier old formula. And does any of this really even help them in the long run? Some short sighted middle manager probably ordered the switch to give the company a one quarter boost in growth. I suspect this kind of business “improvement” is behind a lot of American corporate growth, and eventually it is self-defeating. In the long run you don’t grow an economy by shrinking quality. And you don’t maintain customers by fooling them: eventually some insufferable pedant is going to blog about it, no matter how mundane it is.