Nixie Tubes

Late last year, Apple announced a recall of 1st generation iPod Nanos due to a (potential) battery defect. If you qualified and sent them your old Nano, they would mail you a brand new one.

My wife had a 1st gen Nano, so I had it replaced. Upon getting the new Nano, I began to play with it more than my wife did, so she ended up giving it to me as a Valentine’s Day present a few weeks ago, along with a watch strap.

Since using this Nano as a watch I love it. I would have never bought a Nano for myself otherwise. It comes loaded with 18 different watch faces. I use this one:


The style of the numbers reminds me of of the digital multimeter my father has in his basement laboratory and what I used to use to test batteries for my toys growing up. The number display looked exactly like my Nano’s watch face.

I saw my dad this past weekend, and being gadget geek like me, inquired about my watch.

My Dad: Is that a new watch you’re wearing?

Me: Yeah. Check out the watch face, remind you of anything?

My Dad: Sure, those are Nixie tubes.

I never knew the name for them, but that’s what they are. Nixie tubes.

Here’s a bit from Wikipedia on them:

A nixie tube is an electronic device for displaying numerals or other information. The glass tube contains a wire-mesh anode and multiple cathodes, shaped like numerals or other symbols. Applying power to one cathode surrounds it with an orange glow discharge. The tube is filled with a gas at low pressure, usually mostly neon and often a little mercury or argon, in a Penning mixture.

Although it resembles a vacuum tube in appearance, its operation does not depend on thermionic emission of electrons from a heated cathode. It is therefore called a cold-cathode tube (a form of gas filled tube), or a variant of neon lamp. Such tubes rarely exceed 40 °C (104 °F) even under the most severe of operating conditions in a room at ambient temperature.

It’s quite a beautiful piece of hardware:


If you scroll down the Wikipedia page for Nixie tube, there’s a picture of Steve Wozniak wearing a real Nixie tube watch.

Here’s a picture:


Looks like you can buy one for around $400.

How much more awesomely nerdy can you get?


After watching this video on Gizmodo, that was my reaction – Windows 8 actually looks fun to use.
Now I have no idea how many holes are in Microsoft’s new OS and I hate that it goes back into classic, ‘non-Metro’ mode, but how awesome would it be if Microsoft wupped Google’s ass in the tablet market? You know, created an operating system people wanted to use?
Because based on my first impressions of Windows 8, I’d pick it over an Android tablet without thinking twice.

Foxconn & Apple

Mike Daisy reacts to David Pogue’s response to ABC’s Dateline special on the Foxconn factory producing Apple’s iPads:

You can’t get “informed consent” in a country without real personal freedom. These arguments are pathetic–they’re structurally nearly identical to the ones made in the 19th century justifying slavery. The fact that workers take these jobs because they feel they have no economic, social, or political choice, and this is the only path, is not an endorsement of the current system–it’s actually a condemnation.

It is cute how he makes a point of noting that there are no payroll taxes on your $2 an hour.

Do you think Mr. Pogue verified that, or that he’s spent any time digging through Foxconn’s history of deceptive paying practices–like how it pretended that it raised employee salaries 30% in 2010 by simply moving money around?

No, I don’t think he did, either.

A New Home(screen)

Shawn Blanc thinks about the possibilities of the next Home screen on iOS:

Not until recently have we felt much of a need for a revamped home screen. Since 2007 iOS has evolved significantly in both its functionality (i.e. multitasking and Notification Center) and in the amount of available apps (thus folders, and multiple Home screens). After five years the Home screen is feeling cramped and outdated.

If I were a betting man, I would wager that the iOS Home screen as we know it today is not Apple’s long-term plan. My hunch is that the Home screen is still the way it is because the long-term ramifications of what it could be are huge.

A reimagined springboard is a prime opportunity for significant innovation. And significant innovation takes time.

It’s really exciting to think about what’s next.
Not because it’s a fantasy, but because for those of us who understand Apple, we know this is inevitable.
It’s inevitable Apple is skating to where the puck is going to be (as they always have). It’s inevitable they’re re-imagining the Home screen. It’s inevitable they’ll make a lot of people happy with their next software paradigm. It’s also inevitable they’ll piss off a lot of people in the process.
It’s also all very sad when you think about the opportunities that exist for Android and hardware manufacturers like Samsung who copy everything Apple does.
Comparisons like this stop being funny and just look pathetic.
This is why I’m so happy with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system. It’s a complete departure from everything that came before it. It’s not stale, contrived, fussy or silly. It’s clean, efficient and modern. Microsoft acknowledged a missed opportunity in mobile computing but still pushed forward and came to their own conclusion.
Mutliple futures exist for multiple UI paradigms in software. It’s a painfully commonplace expression, but it’s true – there’s more than one way of doing something. It would be great if more leaders of more software companies realized this, strapped some sets of balls on and took some risks.

Life is talking with people.

I lived at 100 East 7th Street in the East Village in NYC from 2000 until 2005 in my uncle-in-law’s rent-controlled apartment (I’ll make you cry a little – it was a 2 bedroom unit I paid $600 a month for).
It wasn’t until I got married and moved and my brother took over the apartment did I ever see who lived behind the door of 102 East 7th Street (and what was in there).
His name is Anthony Pisano, and he’s a wonderful old man:

Further validating the fact that the East Village is still the best neighborhood in New York.
via Dangerous Minds (thanks bro).

The Response

Last month marked 5 years since the iPhone was first introduced.
Research In Motion has had their research in motion for the last 5 years and they’ve finally responded to the smartphone challenge and the current leaders in this space, Google and Apple:
You’ve had 5 fucking years and this is your response?
Looks lovely, but I hope they don’t count on this saving their company.
Image via The Verge

Work Sucks in China? Who Knew?

Apple announced yesterday that a nonprofit group it partly finances, the Fair Labor Association, would begin inspections at supplier factories in China, most notably Foxconn. This follows a string of horrific stories coming out about Foxconn in recent months, some detailing suicides by workers protesting draconian working conditions. Apple’s moves are an important first step, one that other technology companies that use Chinese labor are sure to follow. What is confounding is how any tale of woe involving China’s labor force is a surprise at this point.
China has little more than token labor laws, and unions are outlawed. There is, and has been, little recourse for the worker to demand better working conditions, shorter hours, better pay, or benefits. The decades-long fight for workers’ rights that took place here in the United States and other western nations beginning in the late 1800s has never taken place in China. Little things that American workers expect as a condition of employment, like the 40-hour work week, weekends, living wages, health and retirement plans, a ban on child labor, and workplace safety, are of little concern to the powers that be in China.
And this extends beyond electronics manufacturing. As another example, conditions are so horrendous in Chinese coal mines that thousands of miners die yearly in mining accidents, far and above the worst death rate for coal miners in the world.
Chinese laborers face some of the harshest working conditions on the planet, but it’s not because they’re Chinese.
Once upon a time, it was a risk to life and limb for American workers to simply get out of bed and go to work. Mills and mines exploited labor in ways just as terrible as in China today, but American workers began to fight back against their employers. Changes did not take place overnight. It took decades, and thousands of deaths (both work-related and protest-related) for American workers to get the protections that we have. This led to the costs of American labor rising for American companies. Their solution, in turn, was to shift that labor to countries where the long fight for fair labor practices had yet to be fought, and labor was cheap.
The out of sight, out of mind attitude of American companies, including Apple, followed by their shock once overseas working conditions come to light, is wholly disingenuous. It costs money to be fair to your workers. Sending work to a place where labor is not costly is more than mere indication that workers are being exploited. Rather, it is a virtual guarantee.