Change You Won’t See

It’s that time of year when blogger’s thoughts turn to change. Seems like everyone is talking about it. Change for the better, change for the worse. Far be it for me to neglect a tidal wave of interest. But naturally, I have to put my own cynical spin on it.

Herewith, my top five list of things that need to change in 2015, but won’t.

5. BART’s mañana attitude. Not just waiting until the last minute and beyond to negotiate with the unions–really, guys, it’s not too early to start working on the 2017 contract, honest–but in general. Cars are increasingly overcrowded; by the time the new cars with more space are delivered in 2016 and 2017, they’ll be packed just as tight as the old cars are now. And yet, we keep hearing that BART can’t start thinking about increasing capacity until after the cars are delivered.

4. Caltrans’ “It doesn’t need to be tested” attitude. Do I even need to elaborate on this? It’s not just the Bay Bridge: everything we’re hearing suggests that Caltrans needs to make a significant change in its corporate culture. Consider future needs. Don’t take it for granted that construction has been done to standard. Recognize that budgets are not infinitely flexible.

3. Government’s belief that citizens have no right to privacy. Did you notice that the NSA chose Christmas Eve to release a pile of audit reports, hoping that nobody would pay attention? Bloomberg’s report makes it obvious that nobody is exercising any control over the NSA. If there are no processes–or software controls–in place to prevent analysts from conducting surveillance without authorization, it means the organization is relying on self-policing. And if an analyst can accidentally submit a request for surveillance on himself, it’s a pretty good sign that self-policing isn’t working. And yet, the NSA wants more access to record and monitor everything that everyone does. Oh, and let’s not forget the FBI, which continues to claim that North Korea is reponsible for the Sony hack, despite significant evidence that the crackers were Russians, possibly assisted by an employee or ex-employee.

2.5 The increasing militarization of local police. As long as police departments are free to buy new and increasingly lethal toys, no one will be able to make any progress in decreasing the fear and distrust between police and the general public. Drone flights won’t make the public feel safer, and the increased resentment will easily flash over into more threats against the police. And body cameras are not and will never be the answer. They’re too easily forgotten, damaged, misinterpreted, or outright ignored.

2. The endless waffling and squabbling by MLB and the As. Just make a decision, people. Yes, is a literal cesspool, but the As aren’t going to make any effort to improve the situation while the possibility exists that they could skip town. The costs of San Jose’s lawsuit are increasing, and MLB’s anti-trust exemption–already cracked by recent court decisions on the NFL’s blackout rules–is at risk. Regardless of your opinion of the exemption as a whole, having it revoked or struck down would open the door to levels of team movements that haven’t been seen since the 1890s. MLB needs to–ahem–shit or get off the pot before someone yanks the pot out from under them.

1. Phones getting bigger. Remember how bad the RSI epidemic was before we started to figure out how hard on the wrists sitting and typing all day was? I’m increasingly of the opinion that we’re treading the same path here. People are holding larger, heavier phones all the time. Bluetooth headsets aren’t a cure: you still need to hold your phone to play games, watch videos, and read and write all but the simplest e-mails. I fully expect 2015 to be the year of the sprained wrist, as Android phone-makers rush out models to increase their size lead over Apple. 2016 will be even worse when Apple catches up with an iPhone 7 that–projecting the trend–will require a personal crane to lift. Not that all of the blame can be assigned to device manufacturers. Several studies that I just made up indicate that all of the screen protectors, fancy cases, and assorted bling that consumers slather on their phones increase the weight by at least twenty-five percent.

0. Happy New Year!

Say what?

Today I want to point out a few WTF items. None of them really amount to enough to stand by themselves, so I’m following an ancient tradition and throwing them together. Call it the literary equivalent of “leftovers soup”.

  • First up: The OFF Pocket. This is a Kickstarter for a product that you probably didn’t even know you needed. I certainly didn’t know that I needed it. Now that I know about it, I still don’t know that I need it. What is it? It’s a cloth bag that you can put your phone in. When you do, it (supposedly) blocks radio signals to and from the phone. Presto! Nobody can call you and the NSA can’t track you or use your phone to eavesdrop on you. As of this writing, 73 people thought this was a great idea and are backing it to the tune of $6,317.WhyTF would you want this bag? If you block the signal, your phone is going to run its battery down faster than normal as it scans for towers. How about just turning the damn phone off? That not only accomplishes the same privacy ends as the bag, but it also saves your battery. And it only takes a couple of seconds longer to turn it off or on than to dig the bag out of your purse/backpack/pocket and shove the phone into it.
  • Next bit of news: Grumpy Cat is getting her own line of coffee drinks. OK, I love Grumpy Cat as much as the next guy–given my grumpy, snarky persona, how could it be otherwise? I’ll passionately defend the right to merchandise the hell out of anything and anyone. As long as there’s some small connection between the endorser and the endorsee. In the case of a product endorsement, that means the endorser really ought to use product. At least once. Show me the cat who’ll come within ten feet of a cup of coffee and then get her to endorse the brew!Besides, doesn’t this sort of endorsement dilute Grumpy Cat’s image? How does an endorsement from someone who’s unimpressed by everything help drive demand? I’m not even going to get into the atrocity being committed on the English language with “Grumppuccino”.
  • This one’s a bit late, but seemed apropos given yesterday’s conversation. Earlier this year, the Sacramento River Cats gave away Barry Zito bobbleheads. (For those of you who need some background: the River Cats are a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Oakland As. Zito played for the River Cats way back when. He’s still fondly remembered in Sacramento. And bobbleheads have been a common giveaway item at baseball games since 1999.)Take a look at the picture of the bobblehead linked above. Now take a look at this picture of Zito. Or this one. Do you see a resemblance? I mean beyond the fact that they both have one head and two arms? With well over a decade of practice at making bobbleheads, couldn’t they have come up with one that looks sort of like the original? But even leaving that aside, Zito is left-handed, as you can see in the photos: glove on the right hand, ball in the left. So why is the bobblehead right-handed? Sacramento must have been borrowing QA engineers from Caltrans’ Bay Bridge team.

OK, enough negativity.

Here’s something to brighten your mood heading into the weekend. (Background)

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me? Or is everyone else getting bored with the current directions in cell phones?

Just for the sake of clarity, let me say that I’m speaking as a cell phone user, not as a (former) tech industry professional. All of the latest phones have super-whoopie new features to set the souls of the developers writing apps ablaze, but from a user perspective, not so much.

From a consumer’s perspective, HTC’s latest offering (the One) has a huge, high-resolution screen (full 1080p HD) and new camera technology that’s supposed to result in better pictures despite its lower pixel count compared to the competition.

Samsung’s latest phone (the Galaxy S4) has a huge, high-resolution screen (full 1080p HD) and a camera with a higher pixel count than their previous model. The latest Notes have huge screens that give you all the size and weight of a tablet but save you from carrying something called a “tablet”. The ultimate example of that bit of silliness is that the most recent member of the family has an 8 inch screen and is wifi-only, but it’s still apparently a phablet, not a tablet.

Nokia has Windows 8. Oh, and a camera that is, based on reviews, the best smartphone camera currently available.

Motorola has… um. I don’t even know what Motorola has. Clearly they need to work on their message a bit.

Apple has a large screen. Well, larger than previous Apple phones, anyway, and with an aspect ratio that will improve your movie viewing experience. I’m serious folks. The exact quote on Apple’s website is “For big-time entertainment, iPhone 5 lets you watch widescreen HD video in all its glory – without letterboxing.” (The screen, incidentally, is 1136×640 – less than 720p HD.)

BlackBerry’s pitch seems to be “We’re still the kings of email, but now we have a big touchscreen like everyone else.” Arguable, but even if it’s true, it’s not exactly fascinating.

Are you seeing the same pattern I am here? The last couple of generations of phones have given us bigger screens with more pixels and better cameras. Appreciated by those who watch movies on their phones and who take a lot of pictures (and I’ll grant you, that’s a lot of people), but what about the rest of the phone-toting world? (I’m deliberately not mentioning games here – they don’t generally come from the phone manufacturers, and they generally work on all of the devices, so they’re irrelevant to my point.)

Not much for the non-movie-watching, non-photo-fascinated user. Incremental improvements to email programs, browsers, and mapping apps are nice, but they’re not exciting. Same for higher network speeds. Call quality? Every review of every phone says some form of either “The call quality sucks” or “Best call quality ever”. But since every phone seems to gather equal numbers of reviews in each category, I’m inclined to believe that it’s not the phones that are the problem, but how call quality is being measured.

Let me make a prediction here: Apple has, I hear, upped R&D by a third over last year. I’m predicting that the result will be an iPhone 6 that packs a screen somewhere between 720p and 1080p into the same space as the current iPhone 5. It’ll be slightly lighter than the iPhone 5, and the battery will last slightly longer. Are you thrilled at the thought? I can’t honestly say I am.

I don’t have an answer here. I’m not even sure the problem affects anyone but me.

I see that the Wall Street Journal is reporting that LG is promising a flexible smartphone by the end of the year. (Original link here, but it requires a subscription. I got my info from Gizmodo.) I’m dubious about just how flexible it’ll be, and I’m not sure I see the utility, but I commend LG for trying something different. It got my attention, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they actually come out with. Until then, I’m snoozing.

Poll time:

If you vote no, please leave a comment and let me know what you find interesting or exciting in the current or near-future crop of phones.