Posts Tagged iPhone

Tech glossary

I love learning jargon, and at a recent tech conference in New York City I got to add a few pieces to my collection. Here’s what technologists use to describe what they do when normal words simply aren’t enough.

Tech (n.) Any device incorporating digital technology, and the digital technology itself.

Exp: “This new iPhone is a great piece of tech.”

This is quickly devolving from shorthand for technology into a word exclusively denoting smartphones, tablets, and the bits and pieces that make them work. We say that our society has faith in technology, but many of us seem to actually mean the kinds of technology that come with plenty of silicon.

Unlike a lot of jargon, “tech” is actually a bit non-specific. A smartphone is a piece of tech, but so are the hardware and software that comprise it. Sometimes tech entrepreneurs need to be more specific, which brings us to our next term…

Solution (n.) A product proffered by a tech company for a specific application.

Exp: “Our company provides innovative solutions for in-car infotainment.”

Since a lot of what tech companies produce is non-corporeal software, someone obviously thought it was a good idea to ditch the word “product,” which implies something more substantial; it’s basically the opposite of what the finance industry did. it’s a suitable term for a technology that seeks to insert itself into all kinds of situations, from glasses to car dashboards.

Innovate (v.) To create something new, specifically a new piece of tech.

Exp: “To solve society’s problems, people need to be free to innovate.”

I miss the days of Dexter’s Laboratory and middle school history lessons about Thomas Edison, when scientists and engineerings invented things instead of just innovating. Being innovative is great, but shouldn’t there be a specific goal behind the innovation? A carbon fiber toothbrush would be incredibly innovative, but there wouldn’t be much of a point to it.

Space (n.) A subject, an area of expertise, a topic.

Exp: “Milled aluminum knobs are very important in the home audio space.”

This admittedly, has more to do with the people writing about the tech industry than the people in it. For some reason, when it comes to technology, there aren’t topics or beats, there are spaces.

Maybe it has to do with the way tech takes on different forms to infiltrate into different physical spaces; morphing into intelligent flat screens and TFT speedometers.

Got any tech terms of your own? Post them in the comments below.

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Is it a car, or a tablet?

Cadillac XTS dashboardIn its ads for the XTS with CUE (Cadillac User Entertainment), Cadillac likes to emphasize how much its infotainment system’s interface has in common with a smart phone or tablet. You can pinch and drag on the XTS’ touch screen to your heart’s content, but what about the rest of the car?

Digital devices are the hot technology of the moment, just as cars, jets, and trains were in decades and centuries past. To keep with the times, cars are starting to take on some of the look and functionality of phones and tablets.

Design wise, that creates many good-looking cars that lack the sheer verve and optimism of the classics. But it creates a host of more practical problems when car companies start turning their products into giant tablets.

At the very least, it makes driving a car very difficult. Controlling a touch screen is easy when you can look at it, but you really need to keep your eyes on the road at all times while driving.

Carmakers continue putting these systems in their vehicles, but they’ve pretty much left it up to the owners to figure out how to use them without crashing. So much for surfing radio stations on the go.

Or even checking to see if your brights are on. A small dashboard icon suffices in most cars, but the Tesla Model S uses its industry-best 17-inch screen to show the driver a picture of the entire car.

That’s cool when you’re sitting still, but it’s hard to imagine looking away from the road while carving through traffic to fiddle with the screen.

Driver shouldn’t get into the habit of ignoring the road to play with infotainment systems, and they shouldn’t ignore the rest of the car either. The Model S’ touch screen is the cherry on top of a technology sundae that includes a high-performance electric powertrain and super-low drag coefficient, but what if someone slapped that interface on a less-than stellar car?

A car needs to do much more than be a wheeled platform for a tablet. Customers shouldn’t let carmakers off the hook, or let themselves get cheated, by ignoring the things that make a car a car. After all, would you buy a Ford Pinto if someone strapped an iPad to the dashboard? We really on our cars for transportation and our mobile devices for communication. Let’s try not to confuse the two.

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Other People’s Cars: 1961 Chevy Bel Air

1961 Chevy Bel AirThe best part of summer? People bring their cool cars out of hibernation. I found this beauty, a 1961 Chevy Bel Air two-door, at the local beach.

Most people know the “Tri-Five” (1955, 1956, and 1957) Bel Airs, which are probably the most iconic American cars ever produced. Chevy continued using the name as one of several trim levels on its full-size cars until 1976.

The Bel Air was all new for 1961, even though it had undergone a complete redesign just two years earlier. Cars were the iPhones of the 1950s and ‘60s; companies were always refreshing them to encourage people to trade their “old” ones in.

The ’61 full-size Chevys were the first cars designed under the influence of Bill Mitchell, who went on to design the Buick Riviera and ’63-’67 Corvette Stingray.

In 1961, the Bel Air was the midlevel model; it was more expensive than a Biscayne, but cheaper than an Impala. A base six-cylinder two-door sedan cost $2,384, while a loaded V8 “sport hardtop sedan” cost $2,661.

The most powerful engine available on the ’61 Bel Air was a 348-cubic inch V8 with up to 350 horsepower. Judging by this car’s hood scoop and jacked-up stance, it probably has more power under the hood.1961 Chevy Bel Air

The phrase “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” comes up a lot when discussing old American cars. This beast is definitely cooler than any new Impala or Malibu, but it was also made in a time when people weren’t expected to survive crashes.

None of that really matters, though. This is a cool American muscle car out on the sreet for everyone to enjoy. That’s all that really matters.

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Apple’s taxes: What is the right thing to do?

Ben Franklin famously said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Over 200 years later, it’s still impossible to cheat death, but not taxes. The New York Times recently published an expose on how Apple and other tech companies use perfectly legal loopholes to finagle their way out of paying state and federal taxes. Apple uses subsidiaries in states (Nevada) and countries (Luxembourg) with more favorable tax rates in order to hang on to as much cash as possible.

Apple isn’t the first American company to be accused of cheating on its taxes, but that doesn’t explain why. Apple wants to maximize profits like any other company, but it also has a reputation for good citizenship. Doesn’t being a good citizen include paying taxes?

In a statement, Apple noted that it gives a significant portion of its untaxed profits to charitable organizations. “We have contributed to many charitable causes but have never sought recognition for doing so,” the company said, “Our focus has been on doing the right thing, not on getting credit for it.” Over the past two years, Apple has donated $50 million to Stanford University, another $50 million to an African aid organization, and started a matching donation program for employees.

If Apple is willing to give freely to charity, why does it squirm at the thought of paying taxes, which fund the same good works. Taxes take away from a company’s profits, but so do donations. At least taxes pay for the infrastructure required to keep a company in business and, you know, keep it in compliance with the law.

Some people believe that, by headquartering itself in California, Apple has “done enough.” The company does not need to pay more taxes, because paying some is better than paying none. If we were still talking about charity, that would make sense; you can’t force an organization to donate a certain amount of money to African aid.

However, taxes are a legal, not a moral, issue. For both individuals and companies, being in the United States means paying taxes. The amount is determined by a duly-elected representative government. Apple needs to pay its fair share, because otherwise everyone else will have to pay more than their fair share. Paying the correct amount of taxes is not optional, at least not for most people.

Companies may hate to part with cash, but taxes benefit them in other ways. The government programs funded by taxes make our society work. How can we help people in Africa if we can’t even maintain streets in Worcester, Massachusetts?

It’s a point that often goes unnoticed in our modern society of corporate worship. Yes, Apple gives us amazing technology that makes our lives easier. It also creates jobs and pays some taxes. Still, Apple needs the United States as much as the U.S. needs Apple. Steve Jobs gave his customers personal computers, and his customers made him rich. He took advantage of America’s entrepreneurial spirit, and rich economy, to found a company. Would things have worked out as well if Jobs was born in Russia?

I’m a huge fan of Apple products (this piece was written on an Apple computer), and I’d like to think that there is more than sheer greed behind the company’s actions. Apple said it just wants to do the right thing, regardless of public recognition. Not dodging taxes is definitely the right thing to do. If Apple continues to scrimp, it may getting some unwelcome publicity, and not the kind that includes awards and pats on the back.

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Instant Isolation

Pandora logoI really hate “Moves Like Jagger.” It’s a mediocre pop song with a stupid premise. Is Maroon 5 so lame that they have to invoke Mick Jagger? Are they too uncool to sing about themselves? But I digress.

That song came on the radio this morning, so I had to start flipping through channels to get away from it. If I had satellite radio, an iPod dock, or some form of internet radio, I could be reasonably assured that I would never have to hear about Jagger’s moves ever again. However, that’s not a world I would want to live in.

The Digital Age gives people the opportunity to focus on what they like, to the exclusion of everything else. No matter how esoteric your taste in music is, you can build a playlist  around it. Like Indy-emo-punk rock played on the hubcaps of a 1977 Chevy Caprice? Just do an iTunes Power Search, or punch some keywords into Pandora.

That is definitely a good thing, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are other things out there. Most people listen to the radio while driving, but thanks to digital music, they never have to listen to the same music as everyone else. Many cars come with internet or satellite radios, and internal hard drives that can store a person’s entire music library. The iPod has become a shape-shifter.

Hearing your favorite song on the radio used to be a moment of joy, because you had to wade through all the dreck of bad songs, commercials, and annoying DJs to get to it. Today, we live in an age of instant gratification. Again, everyone deserves to hear what they want, when they want (power to the listeners!) but we have to consider the adverse effects of this technology.

Is it possible that we’re getting too compartmentalized? We have a good idea of what we like, but do we know what other people like? It helps to at least be aware of what other people are reading, watching, or hearing. At the very least, it helps us figure out what we don’t like and, consequently, who we are. It can also help us relate to each other more easily, instead of walling ourselves off from the rest of the world in little boxes of taste.

Derivative pop songs can be very annoying, if you’re not into bad music, but not everyone has the same taste. Along with opposable thumbs, difference is the most essential part of being human. With that in mind, remembering that there are other people out there besides ourselves can’t be a bad thing. It might even create a little empathy (gasp!). Alright, maybe this is taking things a little too far. However, one thing is for sure: traditional radio helps you appreciate the little things, like every blessed moment “Moves Like Jagger” is off the air.

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The mental standard of living

If we are ever going to raise the actual standard of living, we need to start by raising the mental standard of living. Fox News commentators were outraged when they read a recent study that claimed 99.6% of poor people have a refrigerator. What luxury! They can preserve their food (assuming they can pay their electric bill)!

It’s not just welfare-hating conservatives, either. Before Hurricane Irene struck, the powers that be advised people to stock up on canned food, in case the power went out. Can you eat uncooked chicken noodle soup?

At the turn of the twentieth century, kitchen appliances were an unfathomable luxury for the average American. Halfway through the century, they were an attainable goal. As the standard of living rose, so did expectations. Logically, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, refrigerators and microwaves should be viewed as a necessity.

Instead, people seem to forget that being able to prepare food without a campfire or smokehouse is necessary in modern society. Many people can’t imagine living without their smart phone or computer, but not their refrigerator.

Karl Marx famously declared religion to be “the opiate of the masses,” but if he were alive today, he might revise that statement. Modern communication technology distracts the masses from the exploitative machinations of the bourgeoisie, and from their own terrible lives.

The Internet is essential to modern living, but some things are more essential. We need to view the standard of living in broader terms, like what it takes to physically live comfortably and in good health. A refrigerator may not be as sexy as an iPhone, but everyone should have one, no matter what their income is.

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