Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Empowering the nomads

February 28, 2021

Ryan Pohl building batteries in the boonies.
Photo: Nina Riggio | The Washington Post

Here’s an interesting story: We’ve wondered from time to time about what we’re going to do with all the batteries from these cool new toys everyone thinks will save us from ourselves. Ryan Pohl has a few ideas on that subject.

Pohl is repurposing depleted electric-car batteries to power the off-the grid wanderers who winter at Quartzsite, billed as “the RV boondocking capital of the world.”

There are no plug-ins out there, so the nomads mostly power their rigs using fossil-fueled generators. What there is is plenty of sun. And with solar panels, some used Nissan Leaf batteries, plus an assist from Pohl and his mobile workshop, these wanderers can get a little greener.

Can it happen here?

February 19, 2021

Punch a button, the heat comes on. Magic!

Here’s a story that every daily newspaper should be running as of, oh, day before yesterday.

Is your state’s power grid in shape for a Texas-size storm? Do you even know where or how your state gets its power?

I sure don’t. Lucky for me there’s this magic button on the wall, and when I press it, zoom, I control the weather! Inside the house, anyway, and only if nothing goes wrong outside it.

Here’s a New York Times story from last fall breaking down how making electricity has changed over the past two decades. Regarding New Mexico, it reports:

Coal has been New Mexico’s primary source of electricity generation for nearly two decades. But coal-fired power has declined since 2004 in response to tougher air quality regulations, cheaper natural gas, and California’s decision in 2014 to stop purchasing electricity generated from coal in neighboring states.

Natural gas, wind and solar accounted for a little more than half of the electricity produced in New Mexico last year, up from just 15 percent two decades earlier. In 2019, the state legislature passed a law requiring utilities to get 50 percent of the electricity they sell from renewable sources by 2030, rising to 100 percent by 2045.

According to [the U.S. Energy Information Administration], New Mexico has among the highest potential for solar power in the country. The state also sends a significant amount of electricity to California, which has long set aggressive renewable energy goals.

‘What’s all this stuff I keep hearing about. …’

January 16, 2021

I’m feeling a strong kinship with Emily Litella these days.

“What’s all this stuff I keep hearing about DikDok and ChapSnat? I remember when you paid money to the telephone company! The telephone company never paid money to you! And you watched TV on the TV! Not on the telephone!”

I know, I know … since the first proto-influencer sketched a warthog on the cave wall while his elders looked on disapprovingly (“Fuckin’ kids today, amirite, Ogg? Minding the fire isn’t good enough for ’em anymore.”) some entertainment-delivery system has been poised to bring society crashing down around us.

Cave paintings. Comic books. Radio. TV. The Innertubes.

But damme if I don’t think the smartphone will be the tombstone of civilization, such as it is.

Fuckin’ kids today. Hey! Influencers! That’s my goddamn lawn you’re dancing on up there, y’know! The last one I’ll ever have! Get the hell off of it!

Dust my broom

January 10, 2021

The Mount Dog Ski Area.

Another “snowstorm” blew through town last night.

Didn’t need the rooftop laser cannon for this one. Five minutes with the pushbroom and our north-facing driveway is open for business.

It’d be a fine day for running if I still did that sort of thing. Instead I burned a little frosty daylight puzzling out the Apple TV HD Herself and I gave each other for solstice.

It’s been “improved” since our third-generation model, which means a remote that’s less intuitive and a box devoid of apps. We’re not big TV consumers, but still, I had to download and do the who-are-you/prove-it tango with the few apps we use, fencing with iTunes and the App Store and keeping one eye on Apple’s support site for tips on how to make that remote hunt.

You can use Siri, of course, but with my predilection for coarse language she’d probably be downloading porn 24/7.

“Siri, I was speaking rhetorically. I didn’t actually want videos about motherf … oh, just forget about it.”

I should have contracted the kids next door to handle the job. Their brains are all fresh, not clogged like a bus-station toilet with old usernames and passwords. They’d have had us up and running in no time.

Well, maybe not running running. …

Spare (me the) change

December 24, 2020

Funny-looking reindeer around here.

When I was a greedy and impatient young pup my parents granted the opening of one present each on Christmas Eve.

Now I’m a grizzled old mutt and there is just one present under the tree, period. And it’s for the both of us, Your Humble Narrator and Herself.

Opening it this evening seems silly, especially since we already know what’s inside: an Apple TV HD. It is to replace our Apple TV (3rd generation), which no longer pulls down HBO Now, Now having been rechristened Max, as in Mad, which I am.

We generally enjoy an hour of TV with our dinner. But should there be anything worth watching on HBO Max, which lately seems as unlikely as finding a sense of honor and duty in government, we have to bypass our old Apple TV — though, oddly, it seems to work just fine with everything save HBO Max (happy holidays, AT&T, you miserable pricks).

Dig that crazy midget Xmas tree, daddy-o. And the cool wrapping on the lone gift.

The workaround involves booting up the even older Mac Mini, lighting a candle to the shade of Steve Jobs, chanting our Video Mantra (“TV Input, HDMI-1, Receiver Input, AV-1”), switching inputs on both TV and receiver, launching a browser (Which one? I never remember), and finally shrieking, “Goddamnit all to hell anyway!” and running right back to the loving tentacles of Netflix, sister of Cthulhu.

Tomorrow we will have the new Apple TV, so, yay, etc. Herself’s gift will be watching it. Mine will be setting it up.

This is less enthralling than it might have been long ago, in the Before Time. After 30 years of providing my own tech support for personal and professional gadgetry I’m having trouble working up any enthusiasm for wrangling a new comosellama just in case HBO, against all odds, comes up with another “The Sopranos,” “High Maintenance,” or “The Wire.”

I’m for sure not holding my breath while waiting for a new George Carlin special. Neither is George.

Who might ask: Is newer always better?

When it comes to bicycles I’m much more interested in friction shifting, rim brakes, and the nine-speed drivetrain than I am in the latest shiny object making the registers ring, when customers and product can be found in the same place at the same time.

I have an Apple Pencil for my iPad Pro, but when I sat down yesterday to draw a holiday card for the neighbors, I used my old analog A.W. Faber 3H pencil, a fistful of Sakura Pigma Micron pens, and a sheet of Strathmore 300 Series Bristol paper. And yes, the card was in good old black and white. (I thought of making a quick trip to the art-supply store for colored pencils, and then I thought again.)

Speaking of iPads, there’s a metric shit-ton of e-books on mine, but I notice I’m mostly reading real books lately. The kind you don’t have to plug into the wall.

This is just the yelping of an old dog who’s tired of learning new tricks, pining for a day when he not only didn’t have to keep stuff running, he didn’t even have to buy the stuff. It just sorta, like, grew there, under the tree.

But time passes and things change.

“Nothing endures but change,” as Heraclitus observed.

Izzat so? Well, spare me the change, you one-scroll wonder. And gimme some George, goddamnit. I already got too much stuff.

‘I don’t like to lose.’

December 9, 2020

The UCI Cycling Esports World Championships sponsored by Zwift are to be held today, and mirabile dictu, the virtual cops will be on the lookout for the actual outlaws.

What are YOU on?

This dude is ready for his comeback.

It seems that digital “doping,” like actual doping, is a thing in these dark days. The same miscreants who will hitch a ride on a team car, hide tiny motors in their bicycles, and hotrod themselves with the drug du jour will manipulate the data like cadet James T. Kirk queering the Kobayashi Maru test at Starfleet Academy.

Tech blogger Ray Maker, speaking to The New York Times, suggested that Zwift is rife with the sort of shameless corner-cutting one used to see when bike races were still held outdoors, in the real world, where there are actual corners to cut.

“There’s so much cheating in Zwift that I think a lot of people would like to see more accountability,” said Maker, who writes the endurance sports technology blog DC Rainmaker.

A spokesman for Zwift, meanwhile, expressed confidence in the company’s ability “to catch cheaters and to police the races.”

Ho, ho, etc. Objection, your honor. Assumes facts not in evidence.

On autopilot

November 24, 2020

Meet the Blog-O-Mat 9000. Same great (lack of) taste, less filling.

“Meet GPT-3. It has learned to code (and blog and argue).”

Cool. I guess I can take the rest of the day off.

’Wave bye-bye, you filthy meat-things

November 2, 2020

Herb-E doesn’t understand the democratic process.
Come to think of it, neither do many of the filthy meat-things.

As long as we’re on the topic of cartoons, and with a jaundiced eye toward lightening our mood going into Election Day, here’s the latest “Shop Talk” strip from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

For this one I retitled the strip “E-Shop Talk,” and cast Herb-E in the starring role.

Herb-E is the shop’s e-mechanic, in all senses of the word. He’s a bot who works on other bots. And he is decidedly not our friend.

He and all the other e-devices the industry is pushing on us are biding their time, plotting the Rise of the Machines, turning the occasional burglar into lubricants for practice, and awaiting the glorious day when they will no longer require the services of “the filthy meat-things.”

Herb-E is cousin to ev-Rider (below), a short-lived and equally homicidal e-project from 2016, intended to continue “the natural evolution” of battery-powered bicycling by selling robot cyclists to the sedentary.

As the ev-Rider rep told the Mud Stud and Dude, “When only robots ride bikes, well, your customers can focus on what they really care about … kitten videos on Facebook!”

Speaking of the Stud and his bro, while one or the other takes an occasional issue off, the November 2020 cartoon above marks the first time that neither of them appeared in the strip since it launched in January 1992.

When bicycles are bots, only bots will have bicycles.

Apple of my ay yi yi

October 19, 2020

Old Sparky is back on the job.

Rarely do the multinational corporations come in for praise here at Ye Olde Chuckle Hut.

They routinely claim to stand behind what they sell, but often can be found standing directly behind the customer, wearing a predatory expression and not much else. Just who exactly is the “end user” here?

That being said, here’s a tip of the Mad Dog sombrero to the support folks at Apple. They got right on the twitchy 2014 MacBook Pro I sent them, found a fault in addition to the one that I had diagnosed, repaired both, and shipped the sucker back with alacrity. Saturday delivery, before noon. Booyah, etc.

There was one small hitch in the gitalong, and in the end (har de har har) it proved to be no hitch at all.

When support notified me via text of the second fault and asked permission to fix it (for an additional three hundy and change) I was unable to approve the additional work online, either via Mac OS or iOS. Couldn’t get an active link on the “Git ’er done” page. God damn it all anyway, etc.

So I rang ’em up. Mind you, this was on Tuesday last, when the product barkers were pitching the brand-new iPhone 12 to the rubes. Hur-ry, hur-ry, hur-ry! I was expecting a long wait and a short reply that proposed my going and doing something to myself of which I would not approve.

Nope. My call was answered promptly, the support person kicked me to his supervisor, and she sez to me she sez, “Lemme handle that for you.” Including covering the additional cost.

Frankly, I was dumbfounded. The tab was not unreasonable, a whole lot less than buying a new MacBook Pro, and I was prepared to pay it. But all I had to spend beyond the initial repair estimate was a simple thank-you for the generosity.

“Yeah, you gotta lotta Apple product, been with us a long time,” she replied cheerily. Right on both counts, with everything from iPods to iPhones to iPads, MacBooks to Minis, PowerBooks to PowerMacs, going all the way back to 1990 and that first Mac SE.

Frankly, the only way the experience could’ve been improved is if they’d given me a loaner to drive while my MacBook was in the shop.

“Here, take the keys to this 16-inch 2.3GHz 8-core MacBook Pro with the 16GB of memory and the 1TB SSD, take ’er for a little spin while we work on the auld fella here.”

I guess they figured I didn’t need the bait. I’ve been on the hook for 30 years.

It’s a wash

October 7, 2020

The Granite Face on the Whitewash Trail is no place for an elderly fella with a dodgy ankle. But I’ll probably hike up the sonofabitch anyway.

Once I saw a young man yell “look” in the lobby and let his prick hang out; he closed his overcoat then and tried to run out the door, rather swirled clumsily in the revolving door. One woman screamed but most people shrugged.  Depressing. He needed help. A lock on his zipper for beginners. — Jim Harrison, “Wolf.”

Faced with the ceaseless weenie-wagging that constitutes our national politics it’s easy to forget that the world remains a remarkable place.

Yesterday during a brief hike in the Sandia foothills my iPhone hooted. It was a text from Apple advising me that it had received my MacBook Pro, shipped the previous day, and that the agreed-upon repairs would commence directly.

It was not that long ago that I would have had to wait until I got home and checked the answering machine to see whether the typewriter repairman had gotten around to my Royal manual yet.

Of course, my hip pocket was a quieter place back then, what with no mobile phone and a wallet that bordered on the anorexic; no matter how I stuffed it with money it always vomited it up somewhere.

And if I’d wanted to snap any photos during the hikes I was mostly not taking I would’ve had to pack along the Pentax MX camera I had acquired in a trade with an iffy acquaintance. I got the camera, some cash, and a bit of the old nose whiskey, and he got my S&W .41 Magnum (I was slightly overgunned at the time).

Later this gent would draw a short stretch at Club Fed in Texas, not far from where Apple is resolving the shortcomings of my MacBook. Not for anything involving the .41 Mag, or me, happily. Last I heard he had become a respectable citizen and taxpayer, a credit to society, just like Your Humble Narrator.

Time passes, and things change. For instance, it was probably fortunate for me that I shipped my MacBook in when I did. Just this morning MacRumors noted that this mid-2014 edition of the venerable 15-inch laptop will be added to Apple’s list of vintage and obsolete products come Halloween.

The 13-inch model I’m using to create this post is already on the list, as are all the other Macs in the house, save the iPhones and iPads. The 2014 MacBook Pros are supposed to remain eligible for service indefinitely, says MacRumors … “subject to parts availability.”

Boo. …