The end of the taxiway for the 747 (in the US at least)

Nice photos and story here about the final flight by a US airline of a 747. This brought back memories because, during the 90s, I spent a lot of time on Virgin Atlantic 747s between LHR and JFK (and occasionally BOS). I remember some of the old Virgin aircraft names – Spirit of Sir Freddie, Ruby Tuesday (above) and Lady Penelope for example. One of the things I would do to alleviate the boredom was to try to get off the aircraft first. If you were sitting in the correct seat on the upper deck and managed to get down the stairs before anyone else, there was always a good chance!

The best time was when I managed to get in the cockpit jump seat for a Virgin Atlantic 747 landing at SFO (yes, this was most certainly pre 9/11). It was great to see the crew handle the aircraft and air traffic control and just confirmed something that I already knew – that this kind of stuff was best left to professionals (I was a terrible pilot!).

Virgin Atlantic gradually replaced the 747s with A340s which were just not the same at all but, by then, I had mostly stopped flying across the Atlantic on a regular basis.

The disaggregated smartphone and the road to ubiquitous AR

Nearly five years ago I posted this entry on a blog I was running at the time:

Breaking Apart The Smartphone

…it’s not difficult to imagine a time when the smartphone is split into three pieces – the processor and cellular interface, the display device and the input device. One might imagine that the current smartphone suppliers will end up producing the heart of the system – the display-less main CPU, the cellular interface, Bluetooth, WiFi, NFC etc. However, it will open up new opportunities for suppliers of display and input devices. It’s pretty safe to assume that Google Glass won’t be the only show in town and users will be able to pick and choose between different display devices – and possibly different display devices for different applications. Likewise input devices will vary depending on the environment and style of use.

Maybe we’ll look back on the current generation of smartphones as being inhibited by their touchscreens rather than enabled by them…

I was only thinking vaguely of AR at the time but now it seems even more relevant. A key enabling technology is a low power wireless connection between the processing core and the display. With this implemented in the smartphone core, things change tremendously.

For example, I have a smartphone that is pocketable in size, an iPad for things where a bigger screen is required, a smartwatch for when I am too lazy to get the phone out of my pocket etc. I only have a SIM for the smartphone because even having one cellular contract is annoying, let alone one per device. How would having a wireless display capability change this?

For a start, I would only have one smartphone core for everything. This would have the one and only SIM card. When I want a tablet type presentation, I could use a suitable size wireless display. This would be light, cheap and somewhat expendable, unlike the smartphone itself. However, in this concept, the smartphone can always be kept somewhere safe – expensive screen replacements would be a thing of the past, especially if the smartphone core doesn’t even have a screen. I like to ride a bike around and it would be nice to have easy access to the smartphone while doing so and in all weathers. You can get bike bags that you can put a smartphone in but they are pretty lame and actually quite annoying in general. Instead, I could have a cheap waterproof display mounted on the bike without any need for waterproof bags.

Since the display is remote, why not have a TV sized screen that connects in the same way? Everything streamable could be accessed by the smartphone and displayed on the TV without a need for any other random boxes.

Finally, AR. Right now AR headsets kind of suck in one way or another. I am intrigued by the idea that, one day, people will wear AR type devices most of the time and what that means for, well, everything. The only way this is going to happen in the near future is if the headset itself is kept as small and light as possible and just acts as a display and a set of sensors (inside out tracking, IMU, depth etc). Just like the other displays, it connects to a smartphone core via a wireless link (I believe that any sort of tethered AR headset is unacceptable in general). The smartphone core does all of the clever stuff including rendering and then the output of the GPU is sent up to the headset for display. An AR headset like this could be relatively cheap, waterproof, dustproof and potentially worn all day.

What does a world with ubiquitous AR actually look like? Who knows? But if people start to assume that everyone has AR headsets then “real world” augmentation (decoration, signage etc) will give way to much more flexible and powerful virtual augmentations – anyone not using an AR headset might see a very bland and uninformative world indeed. On the other hand, people using AR headsets might well see some sort of utopian version of reality that has been finely tuned to their tastes. It’s definitely Black Mirror-ish but not all technology has to have horrendous outcomes.

The state of health insurance in the USA

Obamacare really has got expensive this year! Congratulations to all of our wonderful politicians that managed to come up with the most absurd, expensive, inefficient and ineffective system possible for health insurance. Of course, they don’t care because it just affects other people. Obviously the bill attached isn’t correct but it was issued on a non-existent account number and the real account seems not to have been set up at all. 29 minutes on a customer service number followed by a bottomless-pitting seems to suggest that I am going to lose a lot of time trying to get this sorted.

I try not to do rant posts but sometimes things need to be said. Tech is far more interesting.

Credit card fraud – why does it still exist?

This evening I discovered that one of my credit cards had been used fraudulently for the third time this year. Bad luck for whoever it was (presumably) online shopping at various retailers, apparently all the charges were automatically declined. I hope they gave a real mailing address :-). I maintain a hierarchy of exposure and this card happens to be the most exposed but still. It cannot be beyond the wit of man or woman to solve this problem. So why hasn’t it been solved?

I guess the answer is obvious – economics. No doubt credit card companies can estimate their losses to fraud in any year. Actually, I am not sure who carries the losses – retailers or the credit card company – but I guess it is the same in the end. Presumably the calculation goes like this: if the loss from fraud is less than the loss of business from tightening up use of credit cards to prevent fraud, let’s live with fraud!

Credit card fraud is one of those “victimless” crimes. I am not exposed to fraudulent charges as long as I cannot be shown to have been negligent (I guess). Whoever ends up swallowing the loss must think that it’s worth it. Retailers want to reduce the friction to sales as much as possible. Implementing secure credit card technology would no doubt be a massive increase in friction, opening the door to other forms of money transfer (Bitcoin anyone?).

Oh well. The only strategy that makes sense is to use cards in a hierarchy of risk where the card used in the riskiest situations is never used for regular payments otherwise you end up constantly going around websites updating payment information every time some idiot uses a stolen credit card number. But this shouldn’t be necessary – it’s plain wrong to accept crime as inevitable, especially when it can be prevented by technical means.

Ektachrome back from the grave

Interesting story here about Kodak’s plans to bring back Ektachrome film. It seems that the pendulum is swinging once again. Movies are being shot on Super 16 film, vintage movie lenses are being hunted down just because they are so imperfect, anamorphic lenses are being used on film again to get the unique grain effects etc. I used to find film fun but nerve-wracking. The photo above was shot on a medium format film camera a few decades ago – no automatic white balance available there! This could have been Ektachrome or Fujifilm Velvia. I printed the original on Cibachrome and then scanned it many years later – the Cibachrome is still in pretty good shape. Can’t believe I actually had the patience to hand print color reversal stuff. No plans to switch from digital even though I have a bunch of quite decent film cameras kicking around. It’s too much like hard work.

I noticed the smell of unprocessed film when I was looking for old XR headsets the other day so I decided to find the source. Turns out I had some Ektachrome, Velvia and Gold (print film) in a camera bag used for an old Canon AE-1. The print film expired in 1992 so probably isn’t that usable by now – the others must date from the same era.

There’s always a bigger boat…or two

It came as a bit of a surprise at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show that the 147 foot yacht here is regarded as barely even mid-size! Apparently this is a bit small to hold all of the required toys so one of these might be needed as an addition:

This is a support yacht and it’s where you keep your helicopter (or two if you want to do heli-skiing properly apparently), submarine, jet skis, tender, guests that you don’t really like etc etc. The idea is that it races ahead so that, when the owner arrives, everything is set up and ready. It seems that this is actually a cost-effective solution to a problem that extremely few people have. Whatever, it is an impressive piece of engineering in its own right and that giant crane looks like it could lift anything.

Definitely worth visiting this boat show – it’s totally mind-boggling in its scale.