Weekly Tech Views – Jan 16, 2016

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Real tech stories. Really shaky analysis.

We have reached the point in January when we stop saying “Happy New Year” and start saying “How long till spring?” The nice thing about the Weekly Tech Views is that if you find yourself slogging through one that’s the literary equivalent of a dreary, miserable winter day, you know it won’t last two more months (hey, I think I found a new slogan!)

Amazon is rumored to be releasing a smaller, portable version of their Echo “personal assistant.” The new device is code-named Fox. It is supposed to be less expensive than the current version, unless you count the emotional cost of a renewed onslaught of “What Does the Fox Say?” gags.

What Is This “Phone” You Speak Of?
HTC will start taking pre-orders for their Vive VR Headset on February 29th. When a reporter asked if they were afraid that the new focus on VR might cost the company smartphone sales, everyone had a good laugh, there were scattered murmurs of “yeah, smartphone sales,” and then they continued live tweeting the announcement on their iPhones.

They Need To Learn To Text Into The Skid
Ford will start testing self-driving cars in winter weather, following in Google’s footsteps. This, of course, makes complete sense. Driving conditions and hazards vary greatly from June in San Francisco to January in Minneapolis. It’s necessary to test in all conditions before proclaiming them safe for everyday use.

Which raises the question, why aren’t humans held to the same standard? If a sixteen-year-old has a birthday in August, he or she may never drive in rain, let alone snow, before being handed a laminated permission slip to pilot 2,000 pounds of metal next to me on the freeway. I say all testing takes place December through February (with special dispensation here in northeast Ohio, where, in non-El Nino years, facilities can be used Columbus Day through Father’s Day). Less than two inches of snow on the ground? Closed for a “No Snow Day.”

During non-testing months, offices will be converted to rehab centers treating the estimated 95% of testing agents affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Live in southern California and never have to drive in snow? Lucky you. But your license gets imbedded with a chip that cars recognize, and when you visit New England at the holidays and try to start your rental car, it just laughs at you.

Call Me When It’s Knight Rider-Ready
Tesla’s latest update includes the Summon feature, which enables the car to park or unpark itself, as long as the driver is within 33 feet. Cool tech. But look, it’s not bringing your car from the parking garage down the street to the front door of your office building. Really, how many situations are there going to be when you’re within 33 feet of your car but unwilling to take five more seconds to walk the rest of the way? Sure, there are the times when you’re in a desperate fight for survival with a psychotic international spy who has spent years tracking you down and used some exotic variant of jujitsu to disarm you and knock you to the ground has a gun aimed at your head and is about to finish you off to avenge that nasty business in Helsinki in ’03. And you activate Summon and your car hits him from behind, allowing you to turn the tables and strike another heroic blow for democracy. But that’s, what, three or four times a year?

Would You Like To See Hotels In The Area While You Find A Lawyer?
Google Maps for Android has added Driving Mode, a feature that will guess where you’re headed and plot a course.

“Why does it think we’re going to Marcie’s house? I haven’t been there in over a year, since she got drunk and hit on you at the Christmas party.”

“Uh, yeah. Weird.”

“Wait… this is your phone.”


Our Algorithm Says We Spent A Boatload Of Cash And You Are Going To Watch It
Netflix is stepping up its efforts to stop users who access out-of-region content by pretending to be in a country they aren’t. While this means no more Turkey’s House of Kurds and Germany’s Der Devil for those of us in the U.S., VPN users have united in vowing to voluntarily stop circumventing the region-blocking efforts, saving Netflix the time and expense of implementing new controls, if the company would just please stop with the Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six promos taking up 85% of our screens.

No, You Can’t Call The Costumes Soft-Wear
There’s a new musical comedy opening on Broadway in April. Not news, you say. There’s a new musical comedy opening in New York every half hour, you say. Also, you say (I sense you’re starting to get irritated now), that’s not tech news.

AH-HA! This musical is called Nerds, and it’s about the rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. It’s got holograms! And the audience can use an app to interact with the set! What’s most surprising about this venture is that they’d try another tech-related musical so soon after the disaster we all remember from last season, the ill-fated recounting of Steve Wozniak’s career, Woz Side Story.

[Warning: If you did not grow up with a mother who believed Edison invented the phonograph with the sole intention of the West Side Story soundtrack be played eight to ten hours per day, you are approaching dangerous, gibberish-filled territory. Skipping the remainder of this story is highly recommended.]

Try as we might, who can forget songs like…

Woz’s ode to the Apple I’s MOS Technology 6502 CPU–I’m 8-Bitty:
(“I’m 8-bitty / So 8-bitty / I’m 8-bitty, this ditty, don’t lie…”)*

The Graphical User Interface anthem–UI:
(“UI… UI… / Who needs the command line? / UI makes using DOS really dumb…”)*

And, in what was supposed to be the big showstopping number, Steve’s prophetic look at the World Wide Web–The Net Song:
(Once on the Net / You’ll be on it all day / Poking friends that you’ve met / Buying stuff on E-bay…”)*

Still, let’s not write off Nerds. Holograms right many wrongs.**

* On the off-chance you’re still reading, these are to the tunes of “I’m So Pretty,” “Tonight,” and “The Jet Song.”

** I told you to stop. Why didn’t you listen?

That’s all for today. I think I’m going to go lie down for a bit; for a minute there I thought I made a musical theater reference in this tech blog. Can you imagine the Venn diagram of people interested in both? Ha!

Until next week.

Mike Range

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Weekly Tech Views by Mike Range is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.