Weekly Tech Views – March 12, 2016

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Real tech stories. Really shaky analysis.

For the week of March 7 – 11, 2016…

It’s Daylight Savings Time again. It’s always tough losing an hour of your weekend; just make sure you sacrifice something unimportant like doing a load of laundry or making dinner for your kids so you have time to savor the Weekly Tech Views.

Space: The Final Bum Steer
Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin plans to take tourists into space in 2018. Six people at a time would take these short trips to experience weightlessness.

Jeff Bezos-owned Amazon has posted a job opening for a senior software development manager of virtual reality.

Yeah, nobody’s going into space.

“Okay, guys, you are really going to enjoy being part of the select group of humans to experience weightlessness in space. It’s going to be thrilling. We’ll be taking off in just a moment, as soon as you all put on these special safety goggles. We’ve found weightlessness can have some negative effects on the exposed human eye.

“What effects? Good question. Well, it seems in 83 percent of cases the eye will pop like a champagne cork from the orbital socket, and, tethered by the optic nerve, will bounce off your face in zero gravity like the world’s slowest game of pabbleball. So, no matter what, DON’T REMOVE THE VIRT–THE SAFETY GOGGLES!”

“He Based The Firm On Me, You Know”
The Supreme Court declined to hear Apple’s appeal of the $450 million verdict against them in an ebook price fixing case, meaning Apple will start paying out $400 million to affected ebook buyers. Certainly, nobody is accusing the Justices of acting in their own self interest, though each is expected to collect a healthy windfall for their John Grisham collections.

Low Sodium Diets Were Less Common Then
Verizon was fined $1.35 million by the FCC for using “supercookies” to identify mobile users and track their activities across the web, enabling Verizon to target advertising. Verizon said, “Really? $1.35 million? You didn’t forget a zero?” Then they shrugged and peeled $1.5 mill off the roll of cash they keep in their pocket and said, “Keep the change.”

More interestingly, did you know that the origin of both the term and concept of “supercookies” dates back to America’s Old West? As you’ve likely seen in Westerns, cowboys would refer to the cook as Cookie. If a cowboy especially enjoyed a particular meal, he would say, “That was super, Cookie.” Well, Cookie, wanting to stay on the guys’ good side, would file away this information, tracking everyone’s preferences, so that he could replicate the results on special occasions like birthdays or winning the weekly long-distance spittoon-filling contest. Of course, on long cattle drives, the menu pretty much came down to subtle variations of beans and dried beef, so sometimes the best Cookie could do to was up the saltiness of a recipe to a cowboy’s preference by making a concerted effort to let more sweat than usual drip from his face into the “stew.”

It Is Better To Look Good…
Ride service Lyft is integrating with Facebook Messenger, but this comes months after rival Uber did the same. In a letter to shareholders, Lyft pointed out that they remain the undisputed industry leader in pink moustache integration.

And Our Cat Gets To Watch Zootopia!
A company called Screening Room wants to make it possible for us to watch first-run movies in our home. After buying the $150 set-top box, current movies would cost $50 each. Expensive, yes, but for a couple and their three kids, might it not be worth ten bucks a pop to not wrangle the gang into the car, find parking, hunt down non-sticky sections of theater floor (accompanied by non-broken seats), and escort little Bennie and Bonnie to the restroom mid-movie? Also, microwave popcorn and a six pack of Faygo instead of theater concessions? You break even right there.

Even with no kids of your own, it could be financially viable. Try this: make one trip to a theater with your wailing four-year-old nephew and explain that you have to bring him in to the 9:30 opening night showing of Captain America: Civil War because you can’t find a babysitter. Watch how fast everyone in line kicks in a few bucks so you can watch at home. You’ll still be watching movies for free in the comfort of your living room when the next Star Wars comes out!

Does It Come With The Tie I Suppose I Have To Wear To Dinner?
The Tovala company is Kickstarting a smart oven that reads the bar code on a prepackaged meal and not only knows whether to bake, broil, steam, or use convection heating, but at what temperature and for how much time. This obviously falls in the category we like to call Technologically Impressive But Unnecessary. I have a microwave oven. Done. Yes, I’ve come across the occasional food where the only cooking instructions were “On the stovetop,” “In the oven,” and “On the grill.” Know how I cooked them? That’s right, “In the microwave.” Name something that can’t be cooked by setting the microwave at the highest heat for two minutes. Not done? Two more minutes. Hot dog comes out a little rubbery? It’s a hot dog. A little stadium mustard and it’s fine. But you go ahead and “bake” or “broil.” That is, have your butler instruct your chef to do so, Your Highness.

No, Of Course They’d Break It In Five Minutes, But Theoretically…?
Toyota’s Project Blaid is developing a device to help blind people get around more easily. The device is worn around the neck and uses cameras to recognize things like stairs, doors, and signs. Haptic feedback guides the wearer to their destination.

This is brilliant for the visually impaired, but can I suggest, as an additional revenue stream, marketing these to college campuses for the beer impaired? The student signs one out from the rack at the bar’s exit by scanning his ID (or, let’s face it, letting an employee scan it–we don’t have all night) and–presto!–he avoids the half dozen occurrences of deciding which of the three wavering doors he’s supposed to go through on the way back to his dorm (and most likely ending up splayed in front of the front door to the dorm where the cute girl from Medieval Lit that he keeps wanting to talk to lives). The around-the-neck design may need to be rethought, however, for drunk college kids with bellies full of beer and cheesy fries. Particularly for the sake of the work/study kid getting minimum wage to go around campus the next day to collect them.

And I’m Getting Close At Yahtzee
AlphaGo, an artificial intelligence program developed by Google’s DeepMind unit, defeated an 18-time Go champion in the first two games of their five game series, stunning experts in both the AI and game worlds. Sure, everyone’s all gaga when a machine beats a human, but when I beat the CD-ROM version of Battleship three straight times? Crickets.


Okay, you read it, and it only took five minutes, so I guess you should go ahead and make dinner for your kids. Remember–high heat, two minutes, stadium mustard.

Mike Range

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