Mis-swiping the Point: NYC Subway Payment Systems
The NYC subway system—a mishmash of new and old technology—still struggles to build payment systems that work for everyone. And often, the tech often separates the haves and have-nots.
Open To Conversion
Around this time 30 years ago, two separate working groups were putting the finishing touches on technical standards that would come to reshape the way people observed the world. One technical standard reshaped the way that people used an important piece of office equipment at the time: the fax machine. The other would basically reshape just about everything else, becoming the de facto way that high-quality images and low-quality memes alike are shared on the internet and in professional settings. They took two divergent paths, but they came from the same place: The world of compression standards. The average person has no idea what JBIG, the compression standard most fax machines use, is—but they’ve most assuredly heard about JPEG, which was first publicly released in 1992. The JPEG format is awesome and culture-defining, but this is Tedium, and I am of course more interested in the no-name formats of the world. Today’s Tedium discusses 10 image formats that time forgot. Hope you have the right conversion tool.
Perhaps the highly anticipated moment that I’m going to contextualize today is totally inevitable, in a way. For years, there’s been a rumbling that Apple would take its knowledge of the ARM processor architecture and bring it to its desktop and laptop computers. Next week, at a virtual Worldwide Developers Conference, the iPhone giant is expected to do just that. Of course, many will focus on the failed partner, the jilted lover of the business relationship that led to Apple’s move to vertically integrate: Intel. But I’m interested in the demise of the platform Intel vanquished on its way to taking over Apple—and the parallels that have emerged between PowerPC and Intel over time. Today’s Tedium dives into Apple’s long list of jilted processor partners, leaning closely on the shift from PowerPC to Intel. Keep Apple happy, or else.
Cognitive scientists have identified a number of common ways in which people avoid being gullible. But con artists are especially skillful at what social scientists call framing, telling stories in ways that appeal to the biases, beliefs and prominent desires of their targets. They use strategies that take advantage of human weaknesses.
Good collection of cons.
Cross post: https://theconversation.com/why-do-people-believe-con-artists-130361
Touch And Go
Pondering the disastrous fate of the HP TouchPad, an early tablet based on WebOS that’s best known for being the subject of a well-remembered fire sale.
In an effort to avoid the biannual clock switch in spring and fall, some well-intended critics of DST have made the mistake of suggesting that the abolition of DST—and a return to permanent standard time—would benefit society. In other words, the U.S. would never “spring forward” or “fall back.”
They are wrong. DST saves lives and energy and prevents crime. Not surprisingly, then, politicians in Washington and Florida have now passed laws aimed at moving their states to DST year-round.
This is interesting. There are definitely costs to shifting clocks, but that still leaves the question of what the ideal daylight hours are.
Point Of Saturation
75k - The number of restaurants around the world that use the Aloha point of sale system. Aloha is an industry stalwart that has managed to stay relevant while often still looking like it was designed in 1998.
Plus some NCR history.
Mistakes Were Made
Take the time to learn about ERP software, and it’s easy to realize small errors compound quickly. It might seem like we’re going to be dunking on SAP here, but as we previously noted during our recent dive into updates to NFL quarterback statistics, when you’re really, really good at something difficult, you’re allowed more errors than others. By any measure, SAP is a titan of logistics and widespread enough as to be vital to the world economy. So when they fail, they fail in ways that have some spectacular consequences.
Case in point: the Halloween without various Hershey’s candies.
However, when the SAP Hana system they were “upgrading” to took three years to get to operational use, Lidl dumped the project … after spending well more than half a billion dollars. The move was reported not through a lawsuit but a simple memo that explained “the strategic goals as originally defined by the project could not be achieved without the retailer having to spend more than it wanted.”
Oh well, we tried, thanks for the money!
St. Helena Airport
Your average flight from Washington, D.C. to St. Helena Island, located in one of the most remote parts of the world, would be a very arduous affair, a flight that would take nearly two full days, and at least three distinct layovers along the way—first in Ghana, then in Johannesburg, then a refueling stop in Namibia—before you got to your destination. If there’s a delay at any of the three stops, it might compromise the entire trip, because if you don’t make your connecting flight, you’re screwed. And once you’re there, you’re not leaving for a while. I’m endlessly fascinated by these far-off connections, these obscure airports that few people would ever think to travel to—and St. Helena is somehow more hopelessly obscure than the rest. But you’re going to know a lot about it by the time you finish reading today’s Tedium. Strap in—we’re talking about odd airports.
All Penn, No Teller
Why Penn Jillette kind of makes sense as a tech magazine’s back-page columnist
But Jillette was something different. He was already famous—certainly more famous than Pournelle, an established science-fiction author, thanks to being a regular fixture on television during much of his career and starring in a legendary Run-DMC music video—and he likely did not need a nationally distributed computer magazine column to make a living. Jillette simply liked computers and knew a lot about them, which meant that he could rant about the details of an Autoexec.bat file just as easily as he can about politics. He gave the tech writing form something of an edge, while maintaining the freewheeling nature established by fellow pre-blogging voices like Pournelle.
Some good quotes and links here.
Doing Things The Wrong Way
Rules have a time and place, and “doing things wrong” is just a matter of your opinion, man.
Planned Obsolescence: Innovation Versus Preservation
We keep making old stuff significantly less useful in the modern day, sometimes by force. We cite problems things such as security, maintenance, and a devotion to constant evolution as reasons for allowing this to happen. But the net effect is that we are making it impossible to continue using otherwise useful things after even a medium amount of time. I’m not even exclusively talking about things that are decades old. Sometimes, just a few years does the trick. Today’s Tedium ponders planned obsolescence and how it theatens preservation.
Smartphones, Except Landlocked
Phone lines, while not initially designed to transfer binary data, turned out to be a good enough way to do so—up until the 2000s, at least. From sending faxes to browsing the Internet, people relied on effectively the same copper wires they used with Ma Bell-leased telephones. But while most of the personal tech evolved towards greater connectivity, landline phones mostly got better only at the ergonomics of calling and dialing. Today’s Tedium is dedicated to the few ones which dared to be smarter.
Plus this great anecdote:
The mild criticism (“not proving the success that Sir Alan Sugar had hoped” was all that was ever written about the phone) pushed Sugar to send a message to all 95,000 service subscribers, asking them to send an email to Charles Arthur, the newspaper’s tech editor.
Adventures In Interactivity
That book was Creating Adventure Games on Your Computer by Tim Hartnell. The book taught me how to make rudimentary text adventure games on my Apple ][ as a kid and prompted a recent adventure of revisiting the classic text adventures of the past. So grab a torch and get your map making tools ready because today’s Tedium is an exploration of text adventures through the years. Try not to get eaten by a grue along the way.
New Emails, Old Tech
What makes an email different from a web page? Depending on how it’s presented, not a lot—but they also might be miles apart. Things that might have taken a few minutes to lay out for a website can take significantly longer to do when targeting an email client, and with a lot of pain in the middle. With that in mind, I felt like it was good to talk a little bit about the process that goes into email, and where it’s really falling short. Today’s Tedium is an email … about email. Particularly where it needs a little modernizing.
GeoWorks GEOS History - The Other Windows
Back in the early ’90s, it wasn’t a sure thing that Microsoft Windows was going to take over the market, even though they had a clear lead over many of their competitors, thanks to MS-DOS. In fact, one of the iconic GUI-based experiences of the era, AOL, hedged its bets for a while, creating and maintaining a DOS version of its iconic pseudo-internet software using an GUI platform few were familiar with: GeoWorks. It was an operating system for an era when it wasn’t even a sure thing we’d have a modem. Today, we do a dive into the world of GEOS. It’s a pretty fascinating place.
How OS/2 Powered the NYC Subway
Vintage technology has powered the innards of the NYC subway system for decades—and sometimes, it surfaces in interesting ways. This one’s for you, OS/2 fans.
Old Computers, New Inspiration
I’m not a newbie when it comes to conferences—I’ve attended many over the years, big and small, and my day job includes an element of regular conference attendance. But I’ve never attended an event quite like VCF East, the long-running computer festival that brings out so many old computers out of the woodwork that it’s not even funny. (It also brings out their fans, a distinct breed of human that isn’t afraid to futz around on something old for a while.) This past weekend, I got a chance to head up to New Jersey to check out the world of vintage, and I got to set my eyes on some fascinating old tech. It was my first go-around, and perhaps it won’t be my last. When I go to events like this, I tend to focus less on reporting and more on inspiration, tone, and taking something back with me—and with that in mind, I wanted to speak to a few things at VCF East that inspired me. Let me nerd out for a little bit in today’s Tedium. I promise you won’t get bored!
Enter The Matrox
A fast GPU is a must for video processing and other image-heavy productivity tasks, but GPUs are really known for their ability to push the limits on popular 3D-driven games. There’s an obsession with this kind of performance, in fact—hence why folks can’t stop talking about whatever Nvidia and AMD are putting into their graphics chips next. But two decades ago, these two companies had a competitor—and that competitor did something unusual and surprising: The graphics card maker Matrox decided to simply drop out of the market for consumer graphics entirely—a move that seemingly would have sunk any other company. So what happened to Matrox? Well, let me tell you! Today’s Tedium talks Matrox, the misunderstood graphics firm that could never quite get 3D right.