Friday, July 14, 2017

Here's a thought...

A while ago I posited a plan to seed another world with life forms from Earth in a sub-light spaceship with today's technology. It would take a very long time to arrive but such a probe/ship would eventually get to its intended destination if the navigation was done right.  Here's another idea in that vein of thought.

It might be possible to travel the stars at light speed, albeit in a different form from what most of us imagine.  Lets say that we develop a true artificial intelligence(AI).  It seems likely to me that, given the direction that our science and technology is heading, we will accomplish this in the near future.  If we could create robotic space probes, driven by AIs with instructions and the necessary tools to self replicate, a fleet of such probes, travelling at modest relativistic speed could colonize the Kuiper Belt and some neighboring star systems in a few centuries.

If these probes were properly equipped, they could be instructed to build the foundation of a technology base on distant celestial objects (asteroids, moons, planets, etc). We could then, upload custom AI personalities, designed by individuals here to waiting AI androids on these distant worlds. While I cannot say for sure if it is possible to create exact copies of ourselves in digital form, we could consciously imbue such a digital "person" with our character traits if we had the right tools to program with. In effect, a sort of digital child could be sent, at light speed, to another world where a waiting android body could be animated by it.

This system, unlike much of the current sci-fi out there, does not require the creation of a new branch of physics.  We don't need to control gravity or find a way around the light speed limit.  Our existing understanding of the universe will suffice. More importantly, it gets around the limitations of our biology.  We are very fragile and we don't live very long.  But, an AI in an android body would have no such limitations. Time and distance would mean nothing to such a being. So while it would take a long time for the probes to reach distant star systems and build the tech base needed to receive new AI personalities, the AIs in question would eventually get out there. In theory, there really wouldn't be any limit to how far they could go.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Molnija Golden Duke edition

I've lately gotten interested in pocket watches again and a nice Molnija is an inexpensive way to scratch that itch.  The model being discussed here was made in 1994 for the Golden Duke Awards, which is sort of the Oscars of the Ukraine.  The watch is in most respects an ordinary Molnija pocket watch.  It has the nickel plated 3602 movement that is derived from an old Swiss Cortebert movement and a German silver hunter style case.  (Molnija watches were either made of German silver, which is an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc that looks like silver or chrome plated brass).

What makes this one interesting is that it was apparently made especially for the attendees of that award show.  The watch, in addition to the Golden Duke decoration, also honors the 200th anniversary of the founding of the city of Odessa in 1994.

This particular Molnija has one detail that I've never seen on the other models that I have encountered or read about.  This one has an engraved message under the case-back.  In other words, if you never opened up the watch, you would never see it.  I believe that it says something to the effect of "Spectator's Gallery-Golden Duke Awards".   The case-back is interesting too.  It's inscribed with the phrase Aspetto La Hora-I await the hour.  That has to be the most appropriate phrase I can think of for a watch.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The iPad Mini 4 Logitech Focus Keyboard Combo Review

If you are a fan of tablet computers like the iPad but sometimes wish that there was a way to give them a bit more oomph, read on. For the last few years, I have been happily plugging away on an old MacBook that I picked up reconditioned from Mac of All Trades for $250.  It was no one's idea of a top flight machine but it did what I needed it to do without any fuss.  Unfortunately, the latest version of VM Ware, a program that allows me to remote into my office (and in the process run Windows on my Mac) as if I was sitting at my desk, won't work on OSX Lion. And, since that was the last version of OSX that my poor old MacBook could manage, it was time for a new computer, or so I thought.

We had a Dell laptop at home running Windows 8.1 that could run the latest version of VM Ware so I figured I'd give it a try. So, I updated the Dell's software as far as I could, set up my own stuff and gave it a few weeks of use.  As for how I got along with this setup, let me put it this way. I now remember why I switched to a Mac in the first place.  Apple doesn't do everything perfectly in my opinion, my phone is an Android powered Honor 8 and I'm very satisfied with it, but they sure do make a nice laptop. I could have lived with the Dell I suppose but I really wasn't happy. It was not snappy and the battery life was nothing to write home about. And it was very heavy.  However, I also wasn't in a position to drop about a thousand dollars on a new Mac either.  So what to do.

A few months earlier, my daughter told me she needed a laptop for school.  But she said that an iPad with a keyboard case would do the job just fine too.  I had an original iPad years ago and it didn't strike me as a laptop replacement but, I figured, lets see what Apple has to offer.  I wound up getting her an iPad Air and a Logitech keyboard case. To my amazement, it really worked very well. Battery life was terrific and it was really small and easy to carry.  So, when I had to find a solution for my own mobile computing needs, and the Dell wasn't working for me, I decided to do a bit more iPad homework.

It turns out that there is a VM Ware app for iPads that allows them to remote into a supported network just like any other computer. So an iPad with a keyboard would effectively become a Windows computer when needed. And, of course, all of its own considerable capabilities would still be readily available. Best of all, an iPad is not terribly expensive.  The mini 4 ran $399 for a 128gb model (and I had a Visa gift card that effectively cut that in less than half thankfully) and the Logitech Focus keyboard was on sale for $69.  The result is a very small sub notebook based on Apple's excellent iPad.

The Logitech Focus is actually a pretty good keyboard.  It's no match for a full size desktop or even laptop example but it works pretty well and feels solidly made.  The keyboard connects to the iPad via wireless Bluetooth. The keyboard's Bluetooth battery is advertised as being good for six moths on a charge. No worries there. The keyboard/case combo sort of folds over on itself for those times when you want to use the iPad as just a tablet.  It's a little clumsy but you can always take the iPad out of the case when needed. As for typing on it, I had no problems typing this review up.  Worked fine.

I've been using this little machine for a few weeks now and I'm really very impressed. So far, it has managed everything I've thrown at it without issue.  I wouldn't recommend this for writing the great American novel or serious photo editing but, for email, internet access, word processing and simple spreadsheets, it works fine. There are the usual ton of apps available from the App Store for pretty much everything most of us could think of.  And, best of all for me, the whole combo (iPad and keyboard) is small, light and has terrific battery life.  Add in the ability to remote into the office (see the pic of the iPad running Windows) and I don't see the need to go much further than this set up.

The bottom line here is that tablet computers like the iPad have now evolved to the point that they can function as viable laptop computer substitutes for many people. The available accessories (Logitech is one of several companies making keyboards for tablets) have filled in some of the blanks that would have otherwise held a tablet back from this expanded role. If you are in the market for a relatively hassle free small computer, this sort of kit is really worth a good look.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hand and Hide case for the Honor 8

The one downside to the great variety of Android phones out there is that it can be hard to find a high quality case for your particular phone if you stray from Samsung's popular models (for which everyone makes something). The one exception to this state of affairs is a small case manufacturer called "hand and hide" located in Portland, Oregon. These folks have a line of cases that cover an amazing variety of models including my new daily carry, the Honor 8.

First off, this is not run of the mill stuff.  The people at hand and hide use only thick, high quality leather and everything is cut and sewn by hand in the USA and subject to a lifetime warranty. If you have ever owned a Ghurka wallet or a Hartmann bag then you have some idea of the level of quality I am talking about. A hand and hide case will set you back about $100.  That isn't cheap, to be sure, but a similar offering from Vaja or Piel Frama will run you at least as much (and in the case of Vaja specifically, much more). When you consider that most of us carry our phones everywhere these days and also that the phones themselves have gotten so good that a few years of ownership isn't unusual, I think it makes sense to get a good case that you really like.

Each hand and hide case is available in a variety of different colors.  The case you see above is their chocolate brown model.  The case itself is made entirely of stitched and riveted leather with a sturdy brass snap to hold things together.  There is no plastic at all thankfully. The phone is held in place by a pair of shaped leather flanges and the fit is quite secure. I'm not the least bit worried about my phone falling out of this case.  It actually takes some work to get it in. As the pictures above hopefully illustrate, the cut-outs for the various controls and ports on the phone fit perfectly. The case includes three storage slots for cards and cash which I find very handy. In terms of protection, a case like this which physically covers the screen, is about as good as it gets. Lets face it, if there is one part of our phones that gets demolished easily, its the screen.  This type of case obviously adds to the thickness of the phone but I think the trade-off in protection is completely worth it.

For a phone like the Honor 8, which is a really good high-spec smartphone from a company that is relatively unknown in the USA, having the option of a great case like this is very appreciated. Everything else out there for this phone is relatively light grade plastic that, while reasonably protective, really looks cheap. For a piece of personal tech that I am going to handle 10-20 times a day, its nice to have something that doesn't scream "bargain bin" every time I pick it up. So, to wrap this up, if you want to treat yourself to a nice phone accessory that is both protective, useful and beautifully made, give hand and hide a good look.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I am officially no longer a subway rat

From 1977 until a little while ago I was a dedicated NYC Subway rat. I had been riding those trains from the first day of seventh grade at Russell Sage Junior High School for thirty nine years. I had been all over the subway system. Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, you name the station I've probably been there.

Then one day about two months ago, it happened. I walked by the Long Island Railroad station in the middle of Kew Gardens on my way to the subway, like I had done thousands of times before. Only this time, I stopped. I don't know why I stopped that day. Maybe I was just tired or something. I'm still not sure. But I stopped.  I stared at the old station for a few minutes and the cautiously wandered over. There were signs indicating when the next train would arrive. There were machines to buy tickets from. There was a little waiting room with benches. And just like that, I bought a ticket. It was expensive. Round trip to Penn Station was almost double the price of the subway. But when the train arrived, right on time like the sign said, and I got in and settled into an upholstered seat, I was hooked. Eighteen minutes later, I arrived at Penn Station. I couldn't believe it. That's easily twice as fast as the subway.

Well, as it turns out, there is a transit check program that includes the Long Island Railroad. You get to pay for the tickets pre-tax. Additionally, the monthly ticket is proportionally less expensive than the individual ticket. It's still more expensive than the subway. But not staggeringly so. And it's really fast. I think I mentioned that.

So, goodbye to the NYC Subway and hello to the next phase of my commuting life. I'm still just trudging off to work every day. But at least I'm enjoying the ride.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Blu Studio Energy II Review

I had the predecessor to the Energy II, the original Blu Studio Energy before giving it to my son. It was a terrific phone that never gave me any trouble. The new model is a nice step up from the predecessor while still retaining its amazing battery life and bang for the buck.

The Blu Studio Energy II is an unlocked Android 5 smartphone equipped with a 64 bit quad core brain running at 1.3 GHz, 16 GB of storage (with a micro SD expansion slot for more room), an FM radio, 1.5 GB of ram, a 5 inch AMOLED screen, LTE connectivity and dual sim card slots (Very useful when traveling overseas. Buy a cheap local sim card and off you go). The rear camera is a pretty good 8 megapixel autofocus model and the front selfie cam is an acceptable 5 megapixels. Blu even throws in a nice case.

In most respects, these specifications would put it squarely in the mid-range category of smartphones but for one big exception. The Blu Studio Energy II, as its name implies, packs a gigantic 5000 milliamp battery. That's roughly 2 to 3 times the battery power of most other phones and it fundamentally changes the way you can use the phone.

To put it simply, with the Blu Studio Energy II, you can ignore your battery meter for all practical purposes. If you have charged your phone up the night before (or even the day before), just grab it and go the day doing whatever you like. It will still have power at the day's end.  No more running out of juice, cutting calls short, scrambling around to borrow a charging cable or spending a hundred bucks on a big, heavy Mophie charging case. In the last photo above, you can get a pretty good idea of how nice this is.  The phone had been on for 7 hours and 41 minutes and it still had 77% battery power remaining.  And I wasn't babying it either.  I used it for at least an hour and a half during this period.

In terms of build quality, the phone feels terrific. The frame is a solid piece of aluminum with a snap-on plastic back to give user access to the dual sim card slots and SD memory card port. The screen is made of Corning's Gorilla Glass for durability. The main camera takes good pictures (Its not the best of its type but its still pretty good) and the selfie camera gets the job done adequately.

I particularly appreciate the inclusion of the digital FM radio. Streaming media is very nice but, sometimes, only a real radio will do.

The Blu Studio Energy II can be had on Amazon. I got mine for a very reasonable $129. That's $129 complete by the way with no further payments. Very nice indeed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sony SBH52BK Bluetooth FM Headphones

It's been a long time since I got excited about a Sony product. This little gadget, however, is so good Apple should include it with every iPhone sold. You see, this Sony headset solves two problems I have had with the iPhone. It will work with an Android phone too btw.

First off, listening to music on an iPhone without it being tethered to you with a headphone wire is extremely convenient. No more wires getting snagged on something whenever I take my phone out of my pocket. Very helpful, especially on a crowded subway train. And, while there are other wireless headphones out there, they are all pretty bulky to me. This one is different. It's about the size of a pack of chewing gum and has a clip on the back.  What makes it great though is that you can plug in any regular set of headphones that you like. It comes with is own basic set which work fine but you are free to use whatever headphones you prefer.  The ability to remove and replace the ear buds makes it easy to carry this Sony setup anywhere. 

The second trick this Sony manages is that includes a very nice digital FM radio. It really bugs me that Apple's otherwise excellent iPhone has its FM radio chip disabled. (It's in there but Apple won't  turn it on) FM is great to have for those times when you can't stream via WiFi or can't get a strong cellular signal. It is not as convenient as having FM built in to the phone itself but it does work very well. 

The controls on this Sony are easy enough to figure out and the device recharges through a micro USB port using the included cable. Prices I've seen run from the $60 range to Sony's $99 price. Well worth it in my opinion.


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