Just as we thought we had survived the nauseating inundation of political TV commercials preceding the mid-term elections, we are now faced with a new onslaught of screeching 30- and 60-second holiday buying beseechments. While loud and pushy and annoying, they are at...
As a tech historian, I am pleased as punch that Hollywood has finally focused its blockbuster, Oscar-bait attention on British scientists.
No matter where you go -- there you are. More importantly, so is your cellular service. Ramble across the country, and your phone automatically connects you to whatever cellular network is available. You probably don't even think about cell connectivity as you travel....
There is no question that little T-Mobile and its profanity-prone CEO John Légere has brought radical change to the way we buy cellular phones and service. Each of T-Mobile's seven Un-carrier announcements, most of which I have attended and covered, has pushed its...
In a few weeks, I and millions of other iPhone owners will be facing a vexing purchase dilemma.
On September 9, Apple will -- reportedly -- announce not one, but for two new iPhone 6s, a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and a...
While recently riding the A train to midtown Manhattan, a drunk homeless gentleman occasionally sipping from a near-empty bottle of gin was, er, "entertaining" the shoulder-to-shoulder riders in the crowded car with a somewhat stilted serenade of something resembling a song.
Two bemused passengers decided to video record the, er, performance, with their smartphones and tablets. (Note: the video above is NOT the one I witnessed, but merely an example.)
I was fascinated -- not by the unfortunate yowling soul and not why the passengers felt compelled to digitally capture this pathetic man's misery, but by the way these amateur archivists were holding their smartphones and tablets to video record the sad tableau.
You see, if you hold your smartphone or tablet vertically to shoot video, you are going to end up with a vertical video. A tall, thin video. Appropriate maybe to record a LeBron James dunk, a rocket launch or a nasty Anthony Weiner selfie, but not much else.
Tall video is an act against nature. We have two eyes -- to see wide (and to make sure a predator isn't sneaking up on us). Shooting a tall video is like experiencing life while wearing an eye patch and blinders on either side of our one remaining good eye, as bizarely as that might look.
But I kind of understand this portrait positioning propensity. It's a leftover from the Flip Video craze a few years back. Flip video recorders, and most of their pre-iPhone copycat ilk, were held vertically, yet still captured widescreen videos. As Flip owners graduated to a smartphone, they retained Flip's hold-tall shooting style, ignoring the tall smartphone result.
You'd think that after the first tall video you viewed, you'd get the message and turn your phone sideways, to so-called landscape-mode, to capture future footage. After all, everywhere you go, movies are widescreen. Do you ever see tall movies? Can you imagine the uproar at your local multiplex if Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was projected on a screen shaped like the Washington Monument?
Of course not. So why would you hold your smartphone vertically to shoot widescreen video? Do you think the phone will magically turn that tall image on your smartphone display sideways? Smartphones may be smart -- but they're not THAT smart.
But they could be.
Apple or Google to the rescue?
Apple's updated iOS 8 is due with the iPhone 6 in about a month. It'd be great if the geniuses in Cupertino, along with Android engineers, made the video capture mode widescreen as the default, regardless of how one holds the phone, with the widescreen video simply displayed across the top of the tall display. If either Apple or Google actually think someone wants to shoot a tall video, just make "Tall" an option.
Now that I think about it, we don't have to wait for Google. Since the Android operating system is eminently futz-able, any of the leading Android phone makers -- Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, et al -- could easily institute widescreen video as the default video recording setting regardless of the position in which the phone is held. If one maker did it, perhaps the others would follow.
But until Apple, Google or a major Android phone maker correct this video recording orientation issue, please follow these simple rules for shooting video with your smartphone:
Rule #1: Hold your smartphone or tablet horizontally.
Rule #2: See Rule #1.
And if you spy other vertical videographers, gently suggest they rotate their smartphone or tablet 90 degrees. They may look initially annoyed at your interference, but will eventually (and literally) see the widescreen...
Unlike famous and successful independent inventors such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, most the folks who invented the gadgets and technologies that enable our 21st century lives perform in relative obscurity. These "pionerds," a portmanteau of "pioneer" and "nerd," are mostly...
All over America, you can find museums honoring Thomas Edison.
In West Orange, NJ, for instance, you'll find the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, the labs, meticulously maintained by the National Park Service, where Edison helped invent motion pictures.
You can now pre-order Amazon's new Fire Phone at the online retailer's website.
Except I wouldn't. Not yet, anyway.
Why? Fire Phone is missing one of the most important modern smartphone capabilities: Bluetooth 4.0.
What's Bluetooth 4.0? Its other names --...
Mud slides, fires, hurricanes, building collapses, theft, floods, sink holes, and especially hard disk drive crashes happen and usually take irreplaceable objects and files, especially...
This week we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first handheld cell phone, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (pictured abpve), going on sale (which you can read more about here).
But will we one day rue the day cell phones became the world's...
Driving is the most death-defying activity the average American embarks upon. According to the CDC, "unintentional injury" (of which "unintentional motor vehicle traffic" is the leading component) is the fifth most prolific killer of all Americans and the only one not disease-related....
As a result of series of unfortunate events and poor timing, I'm home instead of engorging myself in the sites and sounds of Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile technology exhibition, currently crowding Barcelona.
But based on news reports from the...
A white storm slammed into the U.S. East Coast. Roads and rail transportation were shut down for days. Power cables toppled, leaving large swaths of residents and businesses figuratively and literally in the dark, without communication or power.
Yes, that describes our recent series of snowstorms, in which I was in the middle -- but luckily escaped the major effects of -- where I live in northern Manhattan.
But what I'm really describing is the Great White Hurricane, the Blizzard of 1888.
What's shocking about the parallels between our recent blizzard series and the Great White Hurricane is what New York City did 125 years ago that perhaps the rest of the country, or at least those in weather damage susceptible areas, ought to do as well.
When the Blizzard of 1888 hit, it had been just 12 years since the invention of the telephone, and less than six years since Thomas Edison (whose birthday we celebrate this week) invented the first power station, the Pearl Street Station in downtown Manhattan in September 1882. We were still eight years away from the opening of the Nikola Tesla-designed power station at Niagara Falls, which would eventually supply AC power to the entire northeastern U.S.
In just a short period of time, all across the 1888 skyline of New York City, a web was woven overhead, and that's not an exaggeration -- a net of telephone, telegraph and power cables hung from a forest of poles. Check out this photo and this etching from the 1888 to see what I mean.
Look at photos of New York City today (or, if you live in Manhattan, just look up) and what don't you see?
Where have all the cables gone?
Once Edison's electric power distribution proved to be a great success, city fathers didn't listen to the Wizard of Menlo Park who lobbied to bury his electrical cables and chose the far more economic and less labor-intensive method of stringing city streets like a sitar.
And then, the Blizzard of 1888 toppled this forest of poles and web of cables and destroyed the newly constructed lighting and telephone networks, forever changing the city's power outage map. In the blizzard's aftermath, New York City (at the time consisting only of Manhattan) finally saw the electrified light and buried its phone and power cables underground.
Outside of Manhattan for the next next 125 years, in blizzard/nor'easter/hurricane/tornado-torn territories across the country, "downed power lines" has become a sadly over-used phrase. Two years ago, I penned a similar "bury the cables" plea in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in even more widespread power and communications outages than the current spate of snow storms.
Considering the endless stream of power outage headlines year-after-year, buried power/phone lines should be a major part of the national infrastructure upgrade program that Vice President Biden is championing.
Not a rosy burial picture
Okay, I admit I might be over-simplifying things a bit. Burying power and phone cables nationwide obviously isn't a simple "just do it" proposal.
Is burying cables a local, state or national issue -- who would have authority? I can hear the jurisdictional and partisan "national priority"/"government overreach" kerfuffles now.
How long will streets be torn up, inconveniencing businesses and residents? Oh, no -- not in my neighborhood you don't!
And, most importantly, who's gonna pay for all of this? Us, of course, likely through taxes -- but only if they're offset, say the GOP -- and/or through a utility company surcharge that will be very popular (he said sarcastically).
Measured against myriad Mother Nature-manufactured power outages, however, these authority, inconvenience and cost factors seem to merit at least some conversation, if not a hue and cry from those who have been and will continue to be threatened by loss of electricity from exposed and vulnerable power lines.
Some conversations are already taking place. "Bury the cable" cost/benefit analyses were explored in the aftermath of the Derecho-caused power outage in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore-Northern Virginia vicinity, reported here and in this column.
A similar "bury the cables" discussion is currently being conducted in Toronto. When the logistical and cost issues are exposed to the light of public comment, though, tree-pruning seems to be the less costly -- but butt ugly and band-aid-on-the-problem -- solution.
Several potential "bury the cables" bonuses have not been proffered in these discussions, however.
Drunk drivers would have one less roadside obstruction to wrap their swerving vehicles around. Kids would have to find a more appropriate location to toss discarded pairs of footwear. Our clothes and cars would no longer be spotted by poop from resting (but not necessarily angry) birds on a wire.
And jobs. Lots and lots and lots of jobs. A nationwide "bury the cables" campaign could create construction, manufacturing, engineering, logistical, secretarial, human resource and support private sector jobs in WWII Arsenal of Democracy-like quantities.
Until someone perfects Tesla's dream of broadcast power, burying cables is the best way to keep the lights on regardless of what weather hell is breaking loose outside. New York City figured this out a century and a quarter ago. Maybe it's time for the rest of the country to consider catching...
ICYMI (he acronymed sarcastically), this week marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' landing in the U.S. and their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, upturning world culture and igniting what we now recognize as "The Sixties."
While The Beatles stopped touring in 1966, Sir Paul McCartney continues to rock stadiums and arenas worldwide. I've seen him six times since 1975, most recently at Brooklyn's Barclay Center last summer; prior to that, it was Yankee Stadium in the summer of 2011, and before that at CitiField in 2009.
First of all, wow.
While beholding the wonder of a 68-/70-/71-year-old performing a vigorous two-and-a-half hour show without a break or even a drink of water with nary a crack in that famous tenor, I got to thinking about the technology that makes the modern music business possible -- and the role The Beatles played in inspiring and/or instigating that technology.
Off the Road Again
Among the reasons The Beatles stopped touring in August 1966 was the lack of technology to re-create on stage the music they were constructing in the studio.
Just consider the difficulties in playing tracks from Revolver, which had come out a few weeks before their last concert: were they going to schlep along a string octet just to perform "Eleanor Rigby" or a horn section just for "Got To Get You Into My Life"? How would they reproduce all the nautical sounds in "Yellow Submarine"? And how in tarnation would you even approach "playing" the double-tracking and swirling sound effects throughout "Tomorrow Never Knows"?
How The Beatles created and tried to reproduce their increasingly sophisticated musical palette would forever change how music is made and how we hear it.
Do You Hear Yourself?
Check out the speaker array The Beatles used at the first-ever stadium rock show, their August 15, 1965 Shea Stadium concert, in this video of "Help."
Those 100-watt amplified VOX speakers behind them, as well as the tall, skinny yellow speakers ringing the field, supplemented the inadequate delay-plagued stadium PA system and constituted the entire awful sound system. No wonder John was pleading for aid.
The Beatles' need to hear themselves on stage inspired rock groups to adopt what was then a new idea -- stage monitors, small speakers facing the performers to let them hear what they were playing.
Three days later at their concert in Atlanta, a local audio company set up stage monitors for the band for the first time, alerting them to the potential of the innovation.
Stage monitors -- as well as the earphones you see many performers wear during live shows -- have became de rigueur for performers on stage ever since, screaming girls or not.
All You Need Is Ears
Even though they were off the road, The Beatles were still technologically constrained in the studio. The state-of-the-art in the studio was four-track recording, barely a Model T compared to today's Maserati-like studio gear.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded on just such stone knives and bear skins four-track recording gear. The boys would record four tracks and mix them down to make one track, they would then record four more tracks and mix those to create another single track than combine those two four-into-one tracks to make another single track, and so on and so on.
Beatles producer Sir George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick performed musical legerdemain to preserve if not enhance the fidelity through this laborious layering process necessary to make Sgt. Pepper the sonic and artistic masterpiece it is, and paved the way for every other band with pretensions to move beyond live-to-tape rock recording.
Today's home music makers using Apple's Garage Band have geometrically more advanced technology than The Beatles did in 1966-67 at Abbey Road, Studio Two. Not coincidentally, the name of the software and the eponymous phenomena itself is a direct homage to the generation of kids who grabbed an instrument and secured themselves in their home's carport dreaming of becoming rock 'n' roll stars themselves after seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
And now that I think on it, The Beatles were a direct influence on the co-founder and the naming of the company behind Garage Band, the largest and most influential technology company in the world.
From Studio to Stage
One of the thrills of seeing Sir Paul play life is hearing songs The Beatles never performed live.
It wasn't until the 1980s, after the invention of the synthesizer by Robert Moog and, later, synthesized music systems by Ray Kurzweil, could songs from those post-1966 Beatles' records be replicated live by their originator.
Among the songs Sir Paul has performed of late is "A Day in the Life," complete with the instrumental crescendos that both separate his "Woke up, got out of bed..." bridge from John's "I read the news today..." lyric and close the song and the album.
Without assembling a live orchestra, performing this song effectively live would be impossible without modern synthesizer technology. Paul "Wix" Wickens, Sir Paul's keyboardist, uses a Yamaha Motif ES7 synthesizer, a Kurzweil controller and a rack of processors to recreate live what it took months at Abbey Road Studios to produce.
So thanks to technology inspired, if not pioneered, by The Beatles, we can finally enjoy live performances of the seminal music of our...