“Primitive” Phones vs. Smartphones

Back in February, after months of deliberation about what kind of phone I should upgrade to, I bought an iPhone on Verizon. Shortly thereafter, I began receiving many, many inquiries from friends and family members asking whether this was a good move, whether they should upgrade, whether it’s worth it, and so on. I told them all the same thing: “It’s still too early for me to say.”

Well, it’s been some months, I’m less busy with work, and I’m looking for an excuse to blog, so it’s no longer too early to say. Here are some thoughts for those of you who were once like me: Not trying to choose between different smartphone brands (which is another question altogether), but those who have been using a flip phone without a data plan for years, and are wondering whether those shiny iPhones your friends seem to love finally give you a reason to get a smartphone.

The short answer: probably not. But it’s still pretty cool.


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And a merry Day of the Tesla to you, too

If you opened up Google today, you may have noticed the header background, indicating that it’s the birthday of noted Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla.

As we here at Doombot have long celebrated Day of the Tesla, we thought you, the readers, might enjoy partaking in some of the more time-honored festivities of this highest of holidays. As always, we perform the ceremony of failing to electrocute an elephant with alternating current (we use symbolic plush toy elephants, of course—this is no diabolical, hedonistic Edisonstravaganza), followed by the traditional viewing of Tesla biopic The Prestige.

Finally, the evening is concluded with a live reading of our award-winning* children’s book, Tesla and His Pigeon: A Children’s Story of Love and Loss in the Electric Age, based on Tesla’s relationship with his favorite creature.

teslaandhipigeon

Afterwords, the kids are sent to bed with the reminder that the spirit of Tesla won’t appear to deposit Serbian dinars bearing his likeness unless they are fast asleep.

If this is your first time celebrating Day of the Tesla, you might also wish to partake of these classic episodes of our podcast adventures, The Scrimshaw Meme and TMYK, in which we pay homage to Tesla through the deepest respect of humor.

Finally, the most devoted of Tesla followers undertake—at least once in their lifetime—a trip to the laboratory of the man himself, Wardenclyffe Tower, where the prescient inventor intended to pioneer the field of wireless communication, were he not dastardly foiled by the dark lord Edison.

And so we wish you a happy Day of the Tesla, and to you and your kin, we say: may the eternal peace ray shine down upon you.

* Tesla and His Pigeon was the recipient of the 2006 award for Most Promising New Children’s Book Involving a Historical Inventor of Serbian Descent, by the National Association of Serbian Inventors Whose Initials are “N. T.”. It was also on the short-list for the Newberry Award in the same year, though it was narrowly beat out by Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow

Xbox Live Widget, Updated

xboxwidget.jpgUpdate: This widget relies on data that we don’t control, and has not been tested for Snow Leopard. It appears to be having difficulties updating now, so we can’t make any guarantees that it will work. Sorry!

If you’ve been using one of the fine folk using our [Xbox Live Widget](http://doombot.com/2008/05/01/xbox-friends-widget-conclusion/), you may have noticed that it’s lately been suffering from a mild case of *not-working*.

Turns out we had a slight bug in the works that caused the widget not to be able to get your friends’ statuses, and resulted in a totally blank widget. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult to iron out once we knew what was causing it. Thanks to our hard-working volunteer widgeteer Andrew (seriously, folks, give him a hand).

And so we present to you our newly updated widget (v0.81 if you’re keeping track at home), now with 100% more workingness. You can [download it here](http://doombot.com/bonus/XBox-Friends-List.wdgt.zip); I’ll also note that it’s been updated on that original download page.

I’m thinking we might need to get an actual download page for this at some point, huh?

Spam of the Day: Work-related edition

From: bromee
Subject: Steve Jobs is not cancer-free

Boy eats cats daily
[URL redacted]

*(I just don’t know…does eating cats give you cancer? Cure your cancer? Who clicks on a link about eating cats? Don’t they know Steve Jobs is a [pescetarian](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pescetarian)? What does this have to do with the iPhone? Anything?)*

The hoverboard can be yours…if the price is right

In our continuing self-appointed duty to bring you all the news that is fit to electronically print about our favorite *cryptotechnological* means of conveyance, I just wanted to point out to you that one lucky person will be able to take home [the actual hoverboard used in *Back to the Future II*](http://gizmodo.com/5026747/hover-boards-holy-grails-and-tie-fighters-fill-hollywood-prop-auctions-geek-memorabilia-motherlode). Along with a handful of other *rare artifacts* such as [*the Holy Fucking Grail*](http://gizmodo.com/photogallery/propauction/1002841456), it’s being auctioned off on July 31st. Granted, you’ll need to pony up $30,000—but come on, I mean, a hoverboard *pays for itself*, amirite?

There’s kind of a cruel bent to this auction. I mean, selling of [C-3PO's feet](http://gizmodo.com/photogallery/propauction/1002841808)? And what about [Geordi's visor](http://gizmodo.com/photogallery/propauction/1002841709); how’s the poor guy going to *see*? Why don’t you auction off Stephen Hawking’s *wheelchair* while you’re at it?

Oh man, it’s an embarrassment of riches, though: I mean, [The Rocketeer's helmet](http://gizmodo.com/photogallery/propauction/1002841566)? [Kirk's phaser](http://gizmodo.com/photogallery/propauction/1002841731)? A Tusken Raider costume from…*Attack of the Clones*? Ew. *Lame*.

Unfortunately, I suspect I’ll be missing the event, as I’ll be busy helping [some *jackass*](http://doombot.com/author/jason/) unload his moving van. But if anybody is looking for something to commemorate a certain blog’s upcoming [fifth anniversary](http://doombot.com/2003/) (hiatuses not included), well, I’m just *sayin’*.

It’s the year 2008: where is my hoverboard? I *want* my hoverboard.

In our continuing coverage of all things hoverboard (a topic that our demographics clearly show that readers crave), we bring you the latest developments in hover technology.

Researchers at Cornell University—my alma mater, no less!—have apparently managed to pair superconductors with magnets in order to make hovering vehicles theoretically possible. Of course, science is not without its catches: in order for this to work, the temperature needs to be under -300°F. If you’re wondering, the coldest temperature ever measured on Earth was apparently -129°F, so seriously, people: it’s time we start doing something about this global warming shit. If we keep going the way we are now, we’ll never have hover vehicles. Then what will you tell your children? “Sorry Bobby, but because I couldn’t go without driving my Hummer to the corner store, you can’t have a hoverboard for Christmas. Because they don’t exist.” I hope you enjoy having your children grow up hating you with every fiber of their being.

Anyway, if I can earmark my donation for hoverboard research, I might actually consider giving money to my college for once. Let’s see: I’ve got about two dollars in change in my pocket…and some lint. I expect return on my investment. You’ve got seven years.

Feed Me, Seymour

Here is a boring story about RSS feeds I felt compelled to share.

For a while now, I have been using Bloglines to manage my RSS feeds. I’ve been using it because I potentially check up on my feeds from any of three computers—my laptop, my home desktop, and my office computer—and I want to make sure everything stays easily synchronized. It’s kind of a pain sometimes, though, so I’ve been thinking about switching.


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Which came first: the chicken or Iron Man?

Joshua Glenn, writing at the Boston Globe, tries to solve the age-old dilemma: was Black Sabbath’s classic heavy metal song “Iron Man” inspired by the Marvel superhero of the same name? The conclusion is a qualified “yes,” though it suggests that Ted Hughes’s book The Iron Man, upon which the 1999 animated film, The Iron Giant was based. Glenn’s piece is worth a read, however, if for no other reason than to watch the opening theme song to the 1960s Iron Man cartoon. I’ll be walking around the rest of the day, humming “Tony Stark makes you feel/he’s a cool exec with a heart of steel.”

The following post is not rated

As we’ve seen, I have a strenuous regimen of television watching—one that, if confined to traditional broadcast methods, would probably occupy most evenings of my week, lowering my productivity to near-zero. But we live in the twenty-first century and so technology helps me take what once might have been a crippling condition and make it manageable.

Unlike music and movie piracy, television piracy didn’t really start to become popular until the advent of BitTorrent. While TV shows are usually shorter than movies and thus have smaller file sizes, they more than make up for that smaller size with increased frequency. Distributing a movie is difficult enough, but if you’re trying to keep up with a weekly show, there’s a heck of a lot more data to be transferred on a repeated basis. BitTorrent made that much easier, due to a couple of factors: 1) The de-centralized nature of the file-swapping technology shares the burden by making every downloader a server as well, which leads to 2) the somewhat counterintuitive proposition that the more people who download a show, the faster everybody downloads it.

I’ve often wondered if some metric could not be divined from the relative speeds of downloading. Some shows seem to transfer very quickly, while others simply crawl. This is due in part to differences like file size—for example, downloading an entire season usually takes longer than downloading a single episode—the overriding mechanic at work here is popularity. Again, in optimal conditions, the more people downloading a file, the more servers, and the faster it goes. And if popularity is the deciding factor, it would seem logical (if simplistic) to conclude that the shows that download the fastest are the most popular.

Television ratings are an imperfect science—if they can even be called a science. Even today, Nielsen relies heavily on written diaries kept by their selected “families,” tracking their television watching habits (they do have an electronic device called a “Set Meter” as well, and have been slowly adapting to other forms of technology—while the company moved to start including digital video recorders, such as TiVo, in ratings, it did not do so until 2005).

But do ratings even work?

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How not to get your question answered

[Updated 12-05-07: the story continues! Jump to the end to read the latest.]

In the course of my job, lots of people email me with questions about their Macs, Mac software, and—more recently—their iPhones. As someone who writes publicly about these topics, I’m expected to be conversant with many of their intricate details, and in most cases I am.

But what I’m not is a personal tech support guru. I try to help out people who email me, because, well, I spent years working in tech support and I like to do what I can to make sure people have a good experience using technology. As someone with specialized knowledge, I feel an…perhaps obligation is too strong a word, maybe call it an inclination to help out those who don’t possess that knowledge, just as people with more money often feel an inclination to help out those who are less fortunate. Again, to be clear, it’s not my job, and I don’t respond to every email, but I try to when I can.

Most of the time the people I deal with are polite and appreciative that someone has even responded to their emails. I don’t want to get into a position of saying “Hey, you should be glad you even got an email back,” but let’s face it: a lot of people whose positions are similar to mine don’t have the time or interest to respond to queries that will take hours away from their actual paying work. But the rule of thumb seems like it should be this: when you ask a favor from someone, you should be civil and gracious for any time they take to help you out. That goes for dealing with people in pretty much any walk of life, in my opinion.

My latest email help request started innocuously enough. It wasn’t sent to the catch-all for the iPhone blog, or through Macworld’s contact form, but directly to my work address:

hi,

i put a video on youtube.com and it worked fine. I listed it as global
event as the key word search and then I tried to view it on the iphone. i
couldn’t find it in the listing. Do you know why this is?

Matt [Just as a note, I've changed the man's name.]

A valid question, but not one I was prepared to spend a lot of time on: the fact is that YouTube is a closed system and I don’t know the intricate details of how it works. But I’ve uploaded a video or two to the site and a quick check shows that at least one of them shows up on my iPhone when I search for it. Going on the basis of that, and my general knowledge on the topic, I jotted back a quick reply:

Hi Matt,
My first question would be how long between uploading and trying to find it on the iPhone? YouTube videos need to be specially encoded in a format for the iPhone, and I don’t know if YouTube does this when the video is uploaded or later on. My suggestion would be to wait and try again later. Hope it works out.

Cheers,
Dan

Admittedly, not the most in-depth reply I could have offered, but I did invite further information from Matt to see if we could try to approach this in a logical fashion.

Twenty minutes later, I got a response. I quote the entirety of the reply below:

this was a lame response. Do some digging. jeez.


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