Quick Takes

A couple of shorter items today, because reasons.

First up, the Matier & Ross column in yesterday’s Chron announced that ticket kiosks are being reinstalled at the Temporary Transbay Terminal, suggesting that it’s likely to a while before the new terminal is back in operation.

Oddly, that’s not really bad news. I don’t think anybody expected a quick fix. Even by the most optimistic estimates, the new terminal couldn’t have reopened before February.

The only real surprise in the news is that testing of the cracked beams is still going on. That was supposed to be complete sometime in November. So, yes, the process is lagging behind schedule, but did anyone expect otherwise? And, frankly, I’m choosing to regard the delay as a good sign. Better to take it slowly and be sure everybody is happy with the testing than to rush it and stoke fears that something has been missed.

Assuming the tests wrap up this month and show the cracking isn’t a design problem, we’re still looking at a few more months. The fix will need to be planned, approved internally and by an external group of engineers, and then implemented and (one hopes) tested.

So spending the money to put the kiosks back where the riders are just makes sense.

Moving on.

A bit of news out of the Northwest.

Seattle has been granted a NHL franchise and will begin play in 2021.

Even though I no longer follow hockey, I’m pleased to hear it.

Just this once, let’s skip the discussion of injuries, violence, and general unpleasantness that usually goes along with talk about the NHL and NFL.

It may come as a surprise to many people, but Seattle was once a big hockey town. Back in the nineteen-teens–before the NHL was founded–the Seattle Metropolitans played for the Stanley Cup three times, winning once and losing once. (The playoff was canceled in 1919, due to a flu epidemic. No vaccines in those days.)

They also had a team from 1944 to 1975, playing in the high minor Western Hockey League. That was the team I followed obsessively in my possibly misspent youth. (There’s also a current minor league team, the Thunderbirds, but they don’t get a whole lot of press, even in Seattle, so…)

So, yes, it’s good to see high-level hockey coming back to Seattle. It should be good for the city: like the Mariners, they should be able to draw fans from Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, which means hotel revenue. There’s an automatic rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, not just because of geographic proximity, but also because Vancouver used to treat the Seattle team as a farm club. Now they’ll be meeting on an even footing.

The big question now, of course, is what the team will be called. That WHL team started out as the Ironmen, changed to the Bombers and the Americans, before settling on Totems. It doesn’t seem like there’s any sentiment for those first three names, but Totems has a lot of appeal–though, as several people have already noted, it would take some significant outreach to avoid controversy over cultural appropriation.

Apparently there’s even some interest in reviving the Metropolitan name. I’ll admit to liking the idea, but it probably won’t go anywhere. Inter-sport name collisions are one thing, but conflict within the league is discouraged. The NHL has a Metropolitan division, so confusion would be inevitable, especially given that Seattle won’t be in that division.

Some of the other ideas the franchise owners are considering are also problematic. “Rainiers” is on the list, but the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team is only about thirty minutes away. Awkward. “Cougars” isn’t much better. Washington State University wouldn’t be too happy about that, and annoying a big chunk of your potential fanbase doesn’t seem like a good idea.

“Renegades”? Blech.

“Evergreens”? Maybe. It’s somewhat unique, anyway. But are we really ready for the reporting when the team loses and attendance drops? “Last night the Evergreens tried to answer the old chestnut, falling 3-0 in a mostly empty arena. Not a sound was heard.” Nah.

I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more as ownership narrows down the list.

A Departure

This will be the last blog post I link to on Facebook, at least for the foreseeable future. If you’re coming here to find out when I’ve posted*, I recommend you use the link on the blog itself to be notified by email whenever I post. You can also–at least for now–follow me on Twitter (@CaseyKarp).

* As part of your other Facebook usage, of course; I’m not quite egotistical enough to think following me is the only reason you’re on Facebook. On the other hand, if you are, drop me a note: I could use the positive reinforcement.

In addition, I will no longer be reading Facebook posts. No more likes, no more birthday greetings, and no more comments (though I will look for and respond to comments on this post for a few days).

Believe me, it’s got nothing to do with you, singularly or collectively. No, this is all about me. Because, as several people who know me will tell you, everything is all about me.

Okay, Facebook itself has a lot to do with my decision. And if you really want to spread the blame around, toss a bit at Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who recently summed up much of what I’ve been thinking about Facebook.

I’m not going to follow his lead and delete my account, at least not yet. I’ll come back to that shortly.

Spoiler: my decision has little to do with the annoyance of having to link posts manually, except to the extent that the inability to link posts automatically is a symptom of the larger problem.

The bottom line here is literally that: Facebook is so focused on the bottom line that they’re incapable of admitting a mistake. Worse, even if they were to try to fix something, they’ve gotten so big and unwieldy they can’t possibly do it quickly or well. (Yes, the old oil tanker problem: if every course change costs you time and money, you had better get the course right the first time.) Facebook can’t change course on a dime. Hell, they’d be doing well to change course on a billion dimes.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my Facebook account is, and has always been, in support of my writing. We’ve reached the point where at least as many people go to Facebook to look for someone as who go to Google or Bing, LinkedIn or Instagram, or any other search or interpersonal networking site, so if a writer wants to be found by his readers, he needs to be on Facebook.

Nor is it any secret that Facebook makes its money by selling information to advertisers. Not just who you follow, but which posts you read, what you Like or Hate, who you comment on, how long you spend on the site, and even how long it takes you to read a post.

And yes, Facebook limits what posts you see by how much the poster is willing to pay to get the posts in front of you.

Which is why the ability to automatically link blog posts went away. Facebook doesn’t want you leaving their site to come to mine, so they’re limiting my ability to lure you away, unless I pay them for the privilege.

Sure, there are ways to get around that, ways to see everything a particular person posts, but they’re clumsy, and not everyone knows about them.

Not only is this kind of silo not what the social internet* was created for, but if we can believe any of Facebook’s public history, it’s not what Facebook was created for either.

* The part of the internet used by the entire world to talk to each other, as opposed to the original, original internet intended to link military computers. (Gross oversimplification, I know. It’s a side-issue. Deal.)

I’ve decided that I’m not interested in being part of Facebook’s walled garden any more. I don’t want them making money by selling people advertising because they’ve chosen to follow me–or because I’ve chosen to follow them.

As I said, I’m not going to delete my account. If people are going to come to Facebook looking for me, I’m mercenary enough to want to be here to be found. But only to the extent necessary to direct them elsewhere.

Over the next few days, I’ll be unfollowing and unfriending everyone on Facebook. Don’t be offended: as I said, it’s not you, it’s me. And Facebook. If you want to do the same to me, please go ahead. Or if you would rather leave things as they are in the hope I’ll come back someday–and it could happen, although I agree with Dr. Plait that it’s unlikely–feel free. Your relationship with Facebook is your own business.

Hope to see you somewhere else.

SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced–You Know

A few days ago, a former cow-orker–let’s call him Fred*–asked if I’d be a reference for his current job search. I’m fairly sure this is the first time I’ve been asked.

* A nice, generic name that’s not even close to the person’s real name. Confidentiality is important, after all.

It’s possible I’m not the best person for the role–I imagine prospective employers would rather hear from people still working in the field. But I also assume Fred knows the market better than I do at this point. And besides, he’s a friend. So I said yes.

I figured I might get a phone call a couple of days down the road. Take a few minutes, tell the HR person that Fred is the Ken Griffey, Jr. of his field*, and be done with my good deed.

* No, wait, Junior is retired. Not a good implication. Mike Trout? Yeah, that could work. How’s your OPS, Fred?

Nope. A couple of hours later, I got an email from an employment screening company. They wanted me to fill out a three page form on their website.

Three pages turned out to be, if memory serves, ten questions, only one of which was optional. More than I’d expected, but I did my best, fillin’ out the form and playing with the pencils on the bench there. Hit Submit, and that was the end of it.

Until yesterday, when I got an email from a different screening company, right before I knocked off for the day. They’ve got six questions, and I can answer them either in a reply email or by calling the company’s toll-free number. None of the questions are the same as the first outfit’s selection.

I haven’t done that one yet–I’ll get on it as soon as I finish this post, Fred–although I have to wonder if Fred’s going to be penalized because I didn’t drop everything to respond immediately.

Not that it would have been an instant response. These questions, like the first batch, need some serious thought. They’re the kind of questions I’d expect to be answering if I was applying for a job.

Again, I’m willing to do it for a friend, but I have to wonder how much benefit the actual employer gets from this level of questioning. Do they really get better employees from these detailed electronic references collected by employment services than they would with old-fashioned, phone-based reference checks carried out by an in-house HR department?

There’s no going back, though. Onward into our out-sourced, technological future.

A Tiny Step Forward

The good news is that the Transbay Terminal is still standing.

The bad news is that we don’t know when it’ll reopen–heck, we don’t even know when we’ll know when it’ll reopen.

Seriously, though, at least everyone involved is making the right noises. “Get the temporary patch in place, then figure out what went wrong, and then decide what to do about it.”

Is it just me, or does that feel like the exact opposite of the way the Bay Bridge problems have been handled? I don’t think it’s just me. The attitude on the bridge seems more like “Fix the problem, then figure out what went wrong and whether the fix actually accomplished anything.”

But I digress.

The latest news on the terminal is that the temporary fix is in place and Fremont Street has reopened. Only ten days later than planned, but that was widely expected. Considering the patch involved cutting through three levels of the terminal, dodging pipes, cables, and ducts, only the most starry-eyed optimist would have expected them to have finished by the fifth.

In any case, the engineers involved believe the terminal is secure enough to allow invasive sampling–meaning “snipping off bits”–of the cracked beams. The current plan is to complete the testing by the end of October.

Then comes the fun of designing and implementing the permanent fix.

It’s not all gloom and delay, though. Depending on what turns up in the analysis of the cracked beams, there’s a good chance the rooftop park will reopen even before repair work begins. Though, to be fair to the downside, there’s no word on a fix for the crumbling paths in the park.

Reopening the terminal to pedestrians and park goers would be a win. Not only is the park a major attraction for an area that needs one, but there are many small businesses in the terminal. Getting more foot traffic, even if it’s not the daily commute crowd, would likely save jobs.

Kudos to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority for taking the proper approach to the problem, and best of luck for a swift and secure resolution.

Google Hardware 2018

Some days I wonder why I write fiction, when real life so easily out-weirds–or at least out-coincidences–me.

Like today, for instance. Google’s hardware announcement event kicked off with a bit of hype for their artificial intelligence technology and a touch of horn-blowing over their elite security skills. This came, of course, one day after the announcement that they’re closing the highly unpopular Google+ social network in the wake of a massive security breach.

Imagine how much longer that introduction would have run if the two events had been reversed.

But anyway, new hardware.

In another, unrelated security breach, Google’s done a lousy job of keeping their new toys under wraps. We know about the Pixel 3 phones, the Chrome OS tablet, new Chromecast and Google Home, and probably a few other things I’ve already forgotten about.

But at least now it’s all out officially. Let’s take a look at what’s coming–as usual, thanks to Ars Technica for their live streaming report on the unveiling–and see if there are any surprises left.

First up is the Google Home Hub. It does all the usual digital assistant stuff, but it’s the first Google-branded model with a screen. Interestingly, it does not have a camera, unlike all the other screened digital assistant devices. They’re quite blunt in saying it’s to make users more comfortable putting it in the bedroom and other private spaces. That’s a brilliant PR move, even if its microphone means your privacy can still be painfully broken.

The “Hub” part of the name refers to its ability to control “smart home” devices. Lights, thermostats, and all the other goodies that work so much better than a simple wall switch… Anyway, Nest will be assimilated more tightly into the Google collective, and their hardware will work seamlessly with the Home Hub.

Next was the Google Pixel Slate. It’s something new, and not, Google emphasizes, a laptop trying to be a tablet. Okay, so what is it then? As best I can tell, it’s a tablet. The “new” is that it’s running Chrome OS instead of Android.

Which means, since Chrome now runs Android apps and Linux programs, it’s also an Android tablet and the long-awaited* Linux tablet.

* By the small minority of people who actually use Linux on a daily basis.

Much is being made of the round keys on the matching keyboard accessory. I dunno. It looks like the Logitech K380 bluetooth keyboard I’ve had for a couple of years. It works. It’s not my favorite keyboard, but it’s far from the worst I’ve ever used.

The flexibility is enticing, but with prices starting at $600, not including the keyboard ($200) or stylus ($100), I’m a bit dubious about the price to performance ratio. And with a complete lack of announced specs–including size–and release date, I’d file it under “intriguing but so what?” Wait and see if it even makes it out the door.

Moving on to the Pixel 3. What can I say? It’s a phone. This year’s models (the 3 and the 3 XL, what a surprise) are bigger than last years, but “feel smaller”. Okay. Better cameras with better low light and zoom. No surprise there.

Hey, there’s a new Google Assistant feature: the phone will answer itself when someone calls, and the Assistant will interrogate the caller to find out if you want to talk to them. That’ll apparently roll out to older phones next month, too.

I’m up for that one, actually. If it cuts down on spam, I’m all in.

There’s a stand accessory coming, as well. Wireless charging and turns the phone into an “ambient display”. Which sounds like it’ll work as a something of a low-end Google Home device.

Not a word, apparently, about the new Chromecast. Oh, well.

Interesting toys, but nothing that sets my heart aflutter. Other than that phone-answering feature. Too bad you can’t choose the voice it’ll use–“Ve haf vays of makink you tell us who iz callink”.

Maybe next year.

Microsoft Hardware 2018

With Apple’s 2018 hardware announcements behind us, most of the tech industry’s attention has turned to October 9, when Google is scheduled to announce their own new goodies. Meanwhile, Microsoft almost escaped notice with their release party.

That’s at least partly because what they announced is, well, let’s say “underwhelming”.

The October Windows 10 release will officially start rolling out on Tuesday–though you can get it now by doing a manual check for updates. But why would you want to? The big feature is a cloud-based copy/paste function so you can copy files and data from one Windows machine to another. Which sounds nice, but how much value is it going to add over Microsoft’s existing cloud service, OneDrive? Then there are also enhancements to the Timeline feature that syncs app history across devices. It’s nice that Microsoft is opening the functionality up to non-Microsoft browsers, but–aside from the fact that Firefox and Chrome already have history syncing. Are there enough people who want to sync browser tabs between, say Edge at work and Firefox at home, to make this worth Microsoft’s time and energy?

Then there’s the big enhancement to the “Your Phone” app. Controlling your phone from the desktop sounds useful. But that’s a future feature. All the app offers now is syncing photos and sending and receiving text messages. If you have an Android phone; iOS is also a future feature.

Nor are their hardware announcements any more exciting.

The biggest plus most commentators can find for the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro updates is that they now comes in black. The speed and capacity updates are minimal, and Microsoft’s continuing refusal to adopt USB-C is baffling and vexing.

The hardware upgrades in the new Surface Studio 2 are somewhat more impressive, but despite the Studio’s cool form factor, it hasn’t taken the world by storm. It’s very much a niche product, aimed at digital artists, and the improved graphics and faster hard drive won’t change that.

Oh, yes. Microsoft also announced a pair of noise-canceling headphones. The specs look nice, and I like the idea of user-controlled noise reduction. But Microsoft is a late entrant into the headphone space, and I don’t think these phones offer enough to make a serious dent.

Bottom line: if you want cool new toys, hang loose and see what Google has for you next week. Sure, most of it has leaked already, but the odds are good there will be at least one surprise.

Apple Hardware 2018

Hey, guess what? That’s right, it’s new Apple mobile technology announcements.

Note the lack of an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence. ‘Cause really, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get excited about Apple’s hardware, especially in the mobile space.

Considering that the most exciting bit of news they could come up with to kick off their event is that the Apple Watch is “the number one watch in the world,” I have to figure even Apple is finding it hard to get excited about their own products.

There’s a heck of a lot of marketing gimmickry in that claim, by the way. Number one by what measure? Are we including all the different versions and variations from launch, or just the current models? What time period? And why do we care, anyway? Apple isn’t (officially) a watch company after all.

Anyway, yes, there’s a new set of Apple Watches coming: the Series 4. They’re about a third bigger than last year’s watches. Does this sound familiar? First we have smartphones getting bigger and bigger, to the point where they’re inconvenient to pull out for a quick look. So we get smart watches. Which are now getting bigger and bigger.

What happens when your watch gets too big for your wrist? Will we see a return of the pocketwatch? I rather hope so, actually. Though that chain across my chest could be a bit awkward at times.

Anyway, that extra space can be used to display all sorts of information: sports scores, exercise data, or Apple’s favorite app, the one that reminds you to alternate inhalation and exhalation.

The new CPU is so fast it’ll display a minute in thirty seconds. (That is what “twice as fast” means, right?)

One bit of actually useful functionality: the Series 4 watches can detect the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” scenario and call your emergency contact. It’s too bad you have to buy a $500 watch* to get the feature, because it’s literally lifesaving.

* Yes, you can get a Series 4 for $399, but those variants don’t have cellular capability. To make calls, you’re looking at a minimum of $499. Or get last year’s Series 3 for a measly $279–though it won’t have the fall-detection capability.

On a somewhat related note, the watch will also alert you if your heart rate is too slow. Better take the watch off before your afternoon nap. (It’ll also alert you to signs of atrial fibrillation and let you take your own ECG. I’m less enthusiastic about these features. FDA clearance or no, they seem designed to appeal to the hypochondriac in us all.)

Moving on.

The iPhone X is now, Apple claims, the number one smartphone in the world. Again, no indication of how they’re measuring that. So, this being an alternate year, we’re getting the iPhone Xs.

Which is just like the iPhone X, but with a bigger screen and smaller bezels so the device as a whole is smaller. Unless, of course, you opt for the iPhone Xs Max, which has the largest iPhone screen ever. Remember what I said about phones getting bigger and bigger?

Look, I like my Pixel 2 XL, but I freely admit it’s big. Well designed to be usable at that size, and I’m sure the same is true of the Xs Max, but it can still be awkward. The Max is even larger than my XL.

Of course, the new phones are faster than last year’s. 15% for the CPU (and 40% lower power draw), 50% for the GPU. Better cameras (dual cameras on the back, and a single, faster camera on the front.) Other fasters–networking, for example–and tweaks, such as dual-sim capability. But really, couldn’t you have guessed that this year’s phones would be bigger and faster than last year’s?

Well, except for the iPhone XR. It’s a bit smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus (albeit with a larger screen). Think last year’s iPhone X, but a bit smaller and cheaper. Slightly.

The XR starts at $749, the Xs at $999, and the Xs Max at $1099. Of course, that means price cuts on Apple’s older phones. You’ll be able to pick up an iPhone 8 for a mere $599, or if you’re a real cheapskate, you can get an iPhone 7 for as little as $449. No more iPhone 6s (or original X, for that matter).

So, are you more excited about Apple’s new hardware than I am? You couldn’t be less, that’s for sure.

Pay As You Go

The other shoe drops.

Remember last month when I pointed out that autonomous cars aren’t really intended for individual ownership?

I’ve been wondering how auto makers intended to push people away from car ownership. Prohibitive costs and regulation will only get you so far, after all. The people who can afford to buy a new car every few years–especially a luxury car–aren’t going to be bothered by the registration fee. And if you’re buying a car for the look or the name, you’re really not going to care that this year’s Lexus is an electric.

Well, today’s newspaper gave me the clue. The answer is car subscription programs. Pay a flat monthly fee, get a car, complete with maintenance, insurance, and the ability to swap it for a different model whenever you want*.

* Some restrictions apply, of course.

Some of the services are backed by auto makers–the article I saw talks about Canvas, which is a subsidiary of Ford and, logically enough, only offers Ford and Lincoln cars. Others, like Clutch Technologies, are independent to varying degrees. (Clutch offers high-end models from several manufacturers and concierge service.)

It’s not a lease. There’s no intent to own, and all of the costs except gas are included in the monthly payment. Some programs don’t even require a commitment longer than a month. That’s an attractive model to people who’ve gotten used to that approach with their cord-cutting TV service.

Try it for a couple of months. Don’t like the car? Send it back and get a different one (in some cases you’ll need to wait until the end of your billing cycle). Need something bigger for the weekend? Some services not only let you switch cars at any time, but they’ll even deliver it to your door and help you move your possessions from one to another.

Do you suppose they’ll transfer your radio presets? Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they did. Be easy enough to have some kind of data transfer tool that downloads all your data–radio, seat position, preferred temperature–via Bluetooth. Horribly insecure, of course, but no more so than anything else in the car, so who cares?

But I digress.

It’s more expensive than buying a car, of course, even with the cost of semi-annual servicing and insurance factored in. And I really doubt that the insurance plans are as good as you could get from an independent insurance company–I’m sorry, but auto insurance is no more of a one-size-fits-all object than a spandex cat suit. Most of us might squeeze into it, but there are gonna be some bits sticking out here and there, and a few of us just plain need more.

So you’re paying for convenience and, arguably, flexibility.

And when the autonomous models start showing up in a few years, well, you’re going to feel pretty smug about your flat-rate subscription that means you don’t have to pay whatever Uber is charging by then. Never mind that Uber probably owns a good-sized chunk of the subscription company and makes the autonomous car you’re subscribed to.

Get Bent

Samsung has been playing coy about their plans for a foldable phone. It’s on. It’s off. We’re experimenting. It’s just a rumor.

Sheesh. Get your stories straight, guys.

Anyway, the current story–according to Gizmodo, anyway–is that they’ll be releasing a folding phone Real Soon Now. (Gizmodo speculates that it could be announced in November with shipping in early 2019.)

And my reaction is “Why?”

Samsung’s claim is that it won’t just be a tablet that folds down into a more convenient size for carrying. Somehow, they say, every feature will “have a meaningful message to our end customer.”

While I hope that means something more than “Ha, ha, Samsung’s got all your money now!” I’m not really optimistic. Maybe it’s just that I’ve seen too many technologies deployed in ways that look pretty but don’t take actual use into account. (I’m thinking particularly of all the variations on hinges in 2-in-1 laptops. They look great and do a nice job of folding the keyboard back out of sight, but give you no weight savings in tablet mode and leaving you vulnerable to accidental keystrokes whenever you shift position.)

What kind of feature or functionality can you put in a folding phone that you can’t put in a tablet? Presumably, something that works when the phone is folded. So, a second screen on the back? Maybe. But that’s been done, with limited success. And variations on the idea with normal, non-folding phones–using part of the screen to display information when the phone is locked–are largely underwhelming. Has anyone actually gotten excited over the time/battery/notification display on their phone’s lock screen?

And then there’s the impact a second screen will have on battery life. Android Pie does seem to have extended the useful life of a charge on my phone, but it does that by aggressively turning things off. Adding more hardware would just take away all the savings better software brings.

We shouldn’t forget that Samsung led the push to get multitasking into Android, so maybe they’ve got some ideas around that. But again, what distinguishes a folding screen from a non-folding one of similar size? Apps resizing themselves when the screen real estate changes? Well…consider how many times you’ve seen an app trip over its own feet when you rotate your tablet.

I’m probably missing something. Samsung has a lot of talented engineers, and hardware design is a field where more heads are better than one. I’m sure they’ve got something in mind to deliver that “meaningful message.”

I have no doubt Samsung’s folding device–or devices–will look pretty. I’m even confident they’ll have some “folding-only features”. But something so spectacular and impossible to reproduce without a folding screen that it’ll drive adoption of a new form factor? I’ll believe that when I see it.